Saturday, May 31, 2008


This post got me thinking more about this. I suspect that lately I'm being rather annoying. A born-again UU, if you will.

I know that Rev. Kaaren did a sermon this in the last year too, but I can't find a link right now.

I don't want to be annoying. But I do think that a lot of my friends and family would find a spiritual home as UUs. I try to just live my values, but I also think that UUs are missing the boat by not talking up UUism like the Christians talk up Christianity. Our religion can grow - and must - to be an effective arbiter of change.

How can I tell you about UUism without being annoying?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Adversity Knocks

So after my pity-party the other day, I took some time to do necessary reading - not the schoolwork reading that is required for my classes, but some spiritual reading. I got out Everday Spiritual Practice, which I have yet to make everyday reading, and the next chapter that I was up to was entitled Adversity, by Barbara Merritt.

I honestly laughed out loud when I opened the book up. It was like one of those exercises where you randomly open the bible and put your finger down to find the verse that answers the question of life that is currently perplexing you. Yes, adversity is what I'm struggling with.

I go through these phases where I get really tired of adversity. I mean, really, haven't I had enough adversity in my life? Mentally ill, abusive parent; divorce; poverty; physically ill parent, etc. etc. etc.? When does it end? When do I get my trophy? Apparently...never. Which I know, but sometimes I take smooth sailing for granted and forget that there are new challenges ahead, and they are not meant to torture me. Rather the universe is giving me yet another opportunity to grow.

As Merritt says, "most of us seek [a spiritual practice] that will sooth, comfort, relax, and nourish us." Of course that makes sense. But even meditation, which I consider grounding and peaceful, has its moments, days, weeks of adversity. It can be a hard practice. Challenging. Nearly impossible.

And the best question she asks is "What relationship will we have to adversity?" That kicked my butt right out of pity party and into the active thinking and action itself that I'm known for. I'm a head-on kind of gal, but my spiritual practice is often to sit back and reflect. I need to spend time reflecting and coming up with methods for spiritual growth, and then testing them. (aka, the learning cycle in spiritual action!)

"Our will is not in charge, our desires are not running the world, our preferences are not preeminent."

"Adversity can be one of the great teachers of the soul."

I guess I have a lot of learning to do. Sometimes I think I must have been really, really stupid in a past life.

As Merritt says, a lot of spiritual discipline requires intentionality. Adversity comes right to our front door with no effort on our part at all. And it's how we use it that counts.

The other reading I did was from UU World, which showed up in my mailbox at a convenient time. There is a piece in this issue by esteemed minister and writer Forrest Church, who is dying of cancer.

He also addressed adversity. "Adversity doesn't always bring out the best in people. But the reason it so often does is because adversity forces us to work within tightly drawn limits. Everything within those limits is heightened. We receive as gifts things we tend to take for granted."

Merritt quotes Rumi's take on adversity: "It scatters the yellow leaves from the bough of the heart, in order incessant green leaves may grow. It uproots the old joy, in order that new delight may march in from the beyond."

When I most need to learn, the universe teaches. I just need to open my eyes.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Resentment and Faith

This has been a challenging week. I have to say that resentment is one of the things that I struggle with letting go of. I have a highly developed sense of justice, and when I feel that I'm being treated unjustly, it really pushes my buttons.

I am trying, and have been for years, to remember that I can only control me - I can only control my own response, and try to have an open and empathic view of others' experience, but it is really hard!

May is always a tough time, because it includes both Mother's Day and my own mother's birthday (today), both days fraught with meaning and resentment on both sides of the fence. My mother and I have had a difficult relationship, from the time I was an adolescent through the present. We have had periods - sometimes more than a year - where we don't speak at all. This has become both easier and more difficult since having my own children.

I have my own relationship with her and often I think I have let go of old resentments. I try very hard to let my children have their own relationship with her, as long as I feel they're safe. She has chosen not to engage in a relationship with them for almost 18 months now - I gave her some opportunities to mend fences in December and she only followed through with the kids about six times.

So Mother's Day passed, and I picked up the phone several times and finally decided I just didn't want to call her. She's never been much of a mother, and none of those Hallmark cards fit, so I haven't sent one in years. Today is her birthday, and I haven't called. I probably won't. I do know that I'm not operating out of a desire to punish or feeling resentment this time. I just have some boundaries that I observe to keep myself healthy around toxic people.

Unfortunately, this week has brought up old and new resentments between my ex-husband and I. On both our parts. Tough things, like custody and visitation. Parenting styles. Limits. Safety.

I'm not sleeping well and things aren't really resolved and may never be. But I need to learn to let go. (and let God doesn't really fit for me, but maybe let karma? Or let life, or let the natural progression of healing time take place?) One good thing that came in an email from him was a lesson, that I was able to hear even in the midst of feeling defensive, hurt and judged.

"Do any of these things strike you as being inaccurate, distorted or blown out of context? If so, chances are that the same is true of your opinions about my parenting. Even the things that we see "first hand" are just glimpses."

This is such a true statement - not just about parenting, but about everything we see in life. We're only seeing glimpses of the whole, and as a person who struggles with judgment and resentment, I need to remember this all the time.

So I'm going to try to breathe deeply, and let go. Let go. Let go.

All of this judgment on both sides of the fence - mine and his, mine and my mothers - is exhausting. It takes all the sap out of me. I'm gray in the face of blue skies, and unmotivated. It shakes up my faith in myself as a good person at heart. Shaking up faith is good. But it's hard. Do I have what it takes? Am I doing the right thing? Am I asking for too much sacrifice from those around me for me to become a minister? These are hard questions.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Spending Time

I was driving to church yesterday with two of my kids, and we saw a man in his front yard, trimming his lawn with scissors. I guess everyone has a priority list for how to spend their time. His is scissor mowing. Mine is what?

I feel like time is so precious - there are so many things to do. I need to take care of myself - through eating, sleeping, bathing, writing, playing...finishing school.

I need to take care of my family and friends and pets and the house..

I find myself multi-tasking a lot. Sometimes I'm not doing anything well. Sometimes it all fits together well. But time...I would really like to someday feel like I could spend some of that time on my lawn and feel serenity around it.

I know that there are ways that religious people prioritize time: God, Family, Work. Or something like that.

I am still trying to put mine in order. But I think that maybe there isn't an order. I think the answer is balance. When I am able to give myself fully to the present - whether it's family that needs me, my own needs that are being addressed, clutter being picked up to make a tidy space for us, etc...balancing all of those ways to spend time makes us all fit together the best.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Communication: Ups and Downs

I have been told that I'm a "transparent" writer, but I do find it easier to put feelings and intentions down on paper than I always can on the spur of the moment in conversation. You can't hit backspace when you're talking, unfortunately.

I have recently had some tense conversations with some people who run a class that my older kids attend. One of the board members has always been someone that I had a hard time talking to, probably because we are too much alike. She's sometimes terse and can come off as abrasive, but there is still something very likable about her. She ended up being the conduit for information between the board and I, and I've spent the last couple of months feeling much like a very squeaky wheel. I was aware of speaking for myself, and also for some other parents who didn't approach the board directly, despite my strong encouragement.

Today I had the opportunity to speak to another board member, and to reflect on the conversations I have had with the first one. I'm so glad that the opportunity presented itself, because I have found a kindred spirit that I didn't expect, and worked past some preconceptions that I had. In the end, none of my concerns have been addressed to my satisfation, but I have felt validated and heard, which is more than half the battle, especially when I was engaging in criticism and had a lot of frustration. I give these women a lot of credit for putting up with me.

Again though, the opportunity has been good, and I hope that I conveyed that to them.

On the up side, I have been a bit behind on one of my classes, a communications class that is an independent study. I enjoy the text but the professor and I don't have much reason to talk often. However, she sent me this email last night that really made my day:

I stayed late to read your work. It's now 1:30 a.m., and I am so delighted
I did stay. You are doing a wonderful job. You have a clear mind, a fine
writing voice, and your reflections on the material are mostly outstanding.

Keep up your outstanding work. By the way, I find your sharing in this
course very open. It's hard to imagine that you are not an open person.
Your family arrangements are intriguing, and I am delighted to learn more
about you as you learn more about the course.

What a great feeling to bolster me today as I tackled that difficult conversation. It gave me the confidence that I'm on the right track, and that if I stay open and transparent, and keep my desire to learn, that I can overcome many obstacles.

Friday, May 16, 2008


If you have left a comment, it appears that comments are broken! So I will try to fix them. Sorry!

Common Fire

I'm reading a book for a class called Common Fire: leading lives of commitment in a complex world.

It talks about a research project that looks at what sorts of things contribute to people being committed community builders - not just in their family, or their neighborhood, but in a broader sense.

The story of Emmanuel Jal is one about a child who was saved by someone willing to step outside her box. I think just reading the intro and listening to his song Emma is inspiring. Listen to it, and listen to the story if you have a chance. One person can make such a difference. Be the change.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Posting Queen but a worthy read

Gold Star Mothers


This is just a great thought-provoking post. I aim to read this book as soon as classes are over!

Spiritual Homeschooling

I woke up in the middle of the night last night and had an inner dialogue as I often do. I was imagining meeting a neighbor and the inevitable topic of schooling comes up, so I tell them that we homeschool. I don't necessarily elaborate, but then the conversation turns to career, the typical "What do you do?"

So I say that I'm a student and I'm hoping to go to grad school next year. For what? Seminary. So they assume that I homeschool for religious reasons.

And as I lay there, I realize that I do homeschool for religious reasons, not just the ones that most people would assume. I homeschool because of my values and to create a culture for my family that fits our needs.

I realized today that I need to stop talking about homeschooling for religious reasons in a negative tone. Because I'm doing it too.

I'm taking my children out of the mainstream culture and instilling them with the values of our family and what's important to us - family, attachment, social action and justice, spirituality, respect, and peace, to start with. I'm making sacrifices, both of time, career, and money, to do what I believe is best for my children. And not that other people don't. And not that school is evil. But it has issues that can't be resolved with band-aids.

I believe in being involved in the local community and working to make the schools (as they are) a better place for everyone, but I don't see them teaching values that I believe in, in a way that I agree with. And I venture to guess that that is the same argument that religious homeschoolers of every ilk would make. I just happen to be pretty liberal.

Anyway, I'm tired and not making a lot of sense, but I wanted to get my thoughts on paper, so to speak. My point: Religious homeschooling is for UUs too.

Gardening and Silence

I have been taking some time away from studies (although it's putting me behind) to take in some of the spring weather and to concentrate on more of my yard than the lawn, which has been a stressful situation because of broken lawnmowers.

Yesterday, I got to spend some valuable and peaceful time engaging with the kids in gardening - weeding, exploring the yard, tying up the hops, and readying the vegetable garden for tilling this weekend. It was so wonderful to see that the kids didn't see this activity as a chore, but gladly put on gardening gloves and jumped into the action. Even the toddler was happily digging about in the sticks, and enjoying just being in the yard while we worked.

Although I am well-known for having a "black thumb" and killing indoor plants under my care, and neglecting outdoor plants, I do love something about working in the dirt. I love kneeling in the soil, carefully pulling weeds and roots, planning garden space, and later on, harvesting. I also really enjoy watching other people experience growing things and planting and harvesting.

It was so peaceful, and Soren and I had a wonderful time exploring the layout of our property as we searched for the perfect spot for our new Japanese maple and pine tree. As we wandered about, we realized that the yard proper (as opposed to the wildlife preserve aka meadow) had been carefully planned by the farmer and his wife who originally purchased this property. The large garden was planted with care and no trees were planted that could block the direct afternoon sunshine. Raised beds are created in strategic places to allow for bulbs to grow each year (although the woodchuck had his way with the daffodils this spring) and there are newer plantings that the previous owner carefully planted and sodded. There are mature fruit trees planted in a row, hops where they will get enough water from drainage, and maple trees and honeysuckle where they will benefit from some shade and create shade!

Such planning makes me think of some sort of outdoor feng shui. I am awed by it, as I'm not good at envisioning space in that way - I was never cut out to be a decorator - that was my mom and my sister got all those genes. There is a beauty in it beyond the beauty of nature and growth. It offers something to all the senses and appeals to my spiritual side.


This morning I drove to work and purposely drove in silence. No radio, music, news. Just me and my thoughts. I don't often have an opportunity to drive alone or have silence. Often I'm catching up on the news in the car, or listening to a book on tape. It was not true meditation, but a purposeful, thoughtful, intentional attempt to just listen. I listened to my thoughts, to the wind, to early morning birds. I spent the whole 50 minute drive in silence and I enjoyed every truly blessed moment.

It was a wonderful gift.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Ecletic spirituality

I read an essay today about eclectic spirituality. I think that describes my path up to now. I was raised Roman Catholic and after I was confirmed, just drifted away. It wasn't until last year that I found out that my mother had converted to Catholicism when my sister was 9, and had been raised Protestant. After all, I am from a good Irish family. I assumed that my mother had been raised Catholic as well, but alas, all those years of identifying with my long-standing Papist roots were for naught.

My mother told me when I asked her about it that part of our family had been Catholic, but that her paternal grandfather hated blacks and Catholics with equal ire. It felt like a natural thing to her though, and she felt called to it, and converted towards the end of her first marriage.

I don't think my mother has set foot in church since I stopped going either. My dad made a brief foray into Baptist church (no idea which kind) when he was in an an assisted living facility in eastern PA. He seemed to enjoy that. Then the Mormons came to his assisted living facility in Central PA and dragged him off and baptized him and wanted to make him an Elder. I always thought that they must have been pretty desperate for souls if they wanted to make a pretty seriously brain damaged and falling into dementia old man one of their respected elders, but he got sick of them bugging him and thought that going to church all day on Sundays was boring and useless, so he quit going. Now he seems to enjoy the non-denominational Christian service at his nursing home as much as he enjoys anything. I do know that he has a strong belief in a Christian God though.

I haven't told my mother yet that I'm going to apply to seminary. we have a difficult relationship at the best of times, and I just don't have any desire to have a discussion about it. I recently told my sister, with somewhat selfish intent, since she lives near the seminary I want to attend and would like to stay with her during my intensives. She was gleeful. "Now I'll have someone to marry all these kids!" If they wait that long, I'm good for it!

Anyway, after leaving the Catholic faith (I'm another one of those many reformed Catholic UUs), I turned to agnosticism for a long time, then to some earth-based interests for a few years. I still enjoy celebrating the seasons, and feel strongly about the earth/mind/body connection and the circle of life being paramount. Then I found the UU. I enjoy a mix of Buddhist, Pagan, Christian, and other practices and dogma nowadays, but if I had to choose an umbrella to live under,I'm a UU Humanist. and am even fascinated with the whole concept of Intelligent Design, although not the Christian version created to circumvent the Supreme Court. I'm mostly fascinated with the idea, and the designer need not be "supernatural" (aka God). Just interesting stuff,that's all.

Well, I started this post yesterday and have somewhat lost the thread, but eclectic spirituality, yes. That's a good term for where I come from and where I'm going. And it ties into spiritual practice, because I can avoid the term discipline, and find a wide variety of ways to grow my spirit that appeal to my intellect, my heart, my mind, and my soul. Good stuff.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day

Today is Mother's Day. My kids have traditionally really enjoyed making a day of this for me, and this year that was true for Soren. Emma not so much; she made cookies last week with her dad for me, but was grouchy today, and didn't feel called to make a card this year. Jude and Lucy of course are too little to honor me like the Goddess I am (ha!), so I was a little disappointed, but all in all it was a good day.

The sermon today was of course on mothers and as always, got me thinking about my path and who I am. Some moms want to use Mother's Day as a chance to be pampered and get space from their kids, and have some time for themselves. I'm one that enjoys spending the day as a family, because to me, the kids are who created the part of me that is Mother.

I define myself in so many ways, and often resist parenting and other kinds of labels (large family, attachment parent, liberal, hippie, mainstream, what have you...), but mom is not just a label, but is much of who I am, and how I got to be who I am today. Mothering has defined how I approach community building, what I believe about what culture and society should look like, and what kind of person I want to be and model.

Motherhood and how it changed me was probably the largest first step I took on a spiritual path. Soren wrote me a card today entitled "I love you because..." I have some Becauses of my own.

Because of my kids, I figured out how selfish I was. I figured out what kind of wife I wanted to me, and what kind of relationship I wanted in a life partner. Because of my kids, I sought out a spiritual community, and took the first steps toward recognizing that inner voice calling me to the ministry. Because of my kids, I learned mundane things, like how to cook, clean, and truly multi-task. Because of my kids, I learned about reflective listening and non-violent communication. Because of my kids, I took a hard look at traditional schooling and decided that homeschooling was the path for our family.

I think most importantly, because of my kids, I learned that the heart has an unlimited capacity for love. It grows and expands with each person that we add to our biological or virtual family, and I learned that there is always room for one more at the table. Without the title of Mother, I would not be the woman I am today, and I believe, would be much less of a woman.

Kaaren's sermon today quoted someone (I think it may have been Barbara Kingsolver). She said, "The way we treat children defines the world we'll wake up in tomorrow." Do we want to defend our nuclear family model, and our individualistic culture that takes us further and further away from religious and societal plurality? Motherhood is defined by worry, hope and anxiety, Kaaren says. And I think that she meant not just for our children, but for the world.

Church can be our home - the place that we find solidarity, comfort, community, plurality, and love.

Her final message was to, as a human being, love someone fiercely. Loving someone fiercely has consequences.

I often tell my kids that I love them so much that my heart hurts. And that's true. I also feel like that about the world. That's why I want to become a minister. I want to reach out to the world with that love that overflows my heart. I want to make a difference. Every step on my career path has been about making a difference and reaching people. It has led me on a journey not to career, but to a life transformation. Motherhood is the great definer of that. And my family will have to make sacrifices in order for me to be a minister (an entirely different post). But my heart is full for my family and for my extended world family.

So Happy Mother's Day to all those who mother their children, and mother the world. Love fiercely.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Daily Spiritual Practice

Last year when I started reading the Wellspring site, because the group was full and it was a way to participate, I saw that they were using Everyday Spiritual Practice by Scott W. Alexander, to read from. I ran right out and bought it, and started reading it, trying to make it a temporary daily spiritual practice.

I got about halfway through it, loving every essay, and then just stopped. So much for that practice. However, I took a lot away from it, and the one daily (I hesitate to call it a discipline, because that just sounds too formal and forced), but discipline if you will, was to take a short time each morning having intentional focus on each member of my family.

One reason I started this was because my reading of this book coincided with a sermon that Kaaren Anderson gave within the last year. The monthly theme must have been spirituality or something similar. I don't remember when she gave it, or what it was about, but one thing she said stayed with me forever.

It was this: It is most difficult to be spiritual with your own family.

It's easy to be spiritual in church, or in conversation, or in your own head/heart/soul. But when faced with the everyday challenges and opportunities of our own families, it is really hard to maintain any kind of serenity and consistent spiritual approach.

I recognized myself in this with a harsh twinge. Here I am, being called to the ministry, and yet I am yelling at my kids. Fighting with my husband. Feeling resentful about my current path. Martying myself over vacuuming and laundry. It's embarrassing, really, to be so petty, but so true, so real, so human!

So every morning, I started the spiritual practice of visualizing each member of my family (myself included - that's important!) and considering what they need from me that day. Do they need patience? Firm boundaries? Hugs? Focus? Attention? More responsibility? Less? What do I need to ask for to get through the day? What do I need to do to care for each of us, and for myself?

I will say that I forget sometimes to do this. But when I do it regularly, it puts a whole fresh spin on each day. And remembering to focus on myself has really helped me to focus on each day's journey and where I'm at Right Now. What I need to do Right Now. Not where I am going to be in five years, or five hours, or five minutes, but what I need to do in the moment.

So I've picked up my book again and am starting from the beginning. It's really great. The second essay by Kathleen McTigue, Listening to Our Lives was apt this morning. She writes of seeing a photo and newspaper article about her colleague doing yoga each morning, and the pristine space and mood the photo implied:

"This is not a snapshot of my life. In fact, the longer I looked at the picture and tried to project myself into it, the m ore amusing it started to look to me...I would have been surrounded by a monstrous clutter of toys, overdue library books, unwashed laundry, children's crayons and drawings, and dirty dishes...and I, of course, would not be lying there in meditation, profound or otherwise, but would be snoring."

Yeah. That is me too. And others' spiritual practice can look envious, but it's important to remember that it's personal. Spirituality is personal. And respecting the inherent worth of each being is a UU principle that applies to the self, not just to others.

I'm trying to remember that as I look around me at the cluttered dining room table, unwashed children, and stacks of papers that need to be written today. It will at the very least be an interesting journey of a day.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Starting Out

I have already started out, but I'm just going public. About a year ago, I started hearing this "voice," which makes me sound like I'm going a bit mental (and aren't spiritual leaders often accused of being insane or mentally ill?), but it wasn't like that at all.

It was more like a nagging voice at the back of my soul that kept adding up all the pieces of my life.
Something like nonprofit human service work + management experience + Type A personality + Enneagram results + spiritual seeking + ... = Unitarian Universalist ministerial calling.

I wrestled with it for months. I fought it, I ignored it, I tried to make light of it, but it wouldn't just peacefully disappear. Instead, it got stronger, that voice. So I started tentatively researching the basics - you know, being a UU and all, I started with the practical stuff. What education, what would it cost, where would I go, what was required, what books did I have to read. And then other opportunities presented themselves. Work at my church in the Religious Education department. Wellspring next year. And I made a huge step and went back to school to finish my B.A. in Communications, which I've been piddling away at since 1991. (EDGraduation: Nov., 2008).

So, finally I started floating the idea to select people. First to Tom, my husband. He wasn't enthusiastic, but he didn't tell me I was a lunatic. Then David, my ex-husband. He raved about the idea. Then to a few others, who wondered why they hadn't thought of it first. I started to think that maybe I was on to something, and I wasn't entirely crazy after all. And the voice kept getting stronger.

So I made an appointment with my ministers. It was really hard to do. But I did. And then, due to a series of scheduling conflicts, it took almost three months for us to get together. I almost gave up altogether, and was terrified when she finally called me into her office. But when I finally met with Kaaren, she didn't think I was crazy either. As a matter of fact, when I described my "voice" to her, she laughed. She said that the prophets all wanted that voice to go away too. So I was in good company, Christian or not. She encouraged me to talk to the Associate Minister, Jen Crow, which took me another couple of months to work up the nerve to do.

In the meantime, I put out some feelers about school. I even ordered materials from the local divinity school. And then met with Rev. Jen. That was a very different, but equally positive meeting. It cemented for me what I wanted to do. And I asked some very different and important questions. What does this mean for my marriage? For my children? For my life? For my daily spiritual practice? What is my daily spiritual practice? What demons do I have left to wrestle with (not too many deep ones, I hope).

So, I have a plan. I have a life that changes daily, and becomes more spiritually based and more directed toward service and community and faith.

And I need a place to connect with others; ministerial candidates or friends, or interested parties. I'm a writer at heart, and I write to process, to connect, to make sense of my self, and my world. If all goes well, I'll talk to the UUA this Fall, 2008. I'll go and visit Meadville Lombard this fall and visit my sister in Chicago. I'll apply to Divinity School in December, and start applying for loans and scholarships.

And now it's out there. It's public. It's real. I'm out.

It feels better everytime I talk about it. Every day that I think about it; that I get closer. My first steps on this journey are far behind me now, and it's all about the journey - the journey and the destination are the same. I feel lucky and loved and scared and joyous. So join me!