Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year

Oh, I am so happy to say goodbye to 2010, although there were many moments of transformation.

January I got all fired up about people who call Unitarian Universalism a "movement" rather than a religion. Found a teaching minister (at my current teaching congregation, May Memorial UU Society of Syracuse). Applied and interviewed for summer Clinical Pastoral Education at Strong Hospital. My mother had a stroke. I attended my first intensive classes at Meadville Lombard and had a wonderful experience with coursework, collegiality, family visits, and worship. I was also involved in a Flash Mob at my home congregation! I embraced prayer and daily spiritual practice in a meaningful way.

February I dealt with sick children, tried unsuccessfully to plan regular dates with my husband, and enjoyed Teen Soul Matters. I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on the Catholicism of my youth and my enjoyment of ritual and finding a way to make Lent meaningful in my current theology. I got riled up about class and oppression through a lens of theology and my work at the homeless teen center.

March I got accepted to CPE! I managed to make it through half a semester of New Testament studies. I began seriously preparing for my RSCC interview. I thought about righteous indignation and prophetic voice vs. anger. I got new sneakers for the first time in many years, and my aged cat decided to crawl under our porch as his last resting place.

April My RSCC interview ended in a postponement and excruciating disappointment, though there were no red flags. We got a new puppy, whom is still causing me no end of angst.  I had wrist surgery (which incidentially is still not healed completely). I started coming to closure at my community placement site, where I was working as a counselor at a homeless shelter for inner city kids. I attended my first District Assembly and had a great time, and then got to play DRE and run children's worship at my home congregation, where I was still working as RE assistant. FUN! I was approved as the ministerial intern at MMUUS! We had three cats die in one month, and the new puppy had to have major xrays to figure out what was wrong with her hip.

May I finished my first entire year of graduate school, then watched my older kids perform in two plays, and visited the Lilac Festival with my whole family. I tackle the idea of what I think the soul is, thanks to a post over at UU Salon. I took on city hall about keeping my chickens and WON! I mulled on the aging of my parents and the difficulties of being in the sandwich generation. My friend lost her teenager to drug abuse, and I started CPE at a Trauma One hospital.

June Death and i come to an uneasy arrangement. I become transformed by working in hospital chaplaincy, and I find God in my everyday life. I embrace prayer in my own UU way, and make it my own. I explore race and privilege, as well as dignity and end of life issues. I explore ministerial authority, right relation, experiencing God, and becoming.

July I continued immersed in chaplaincy and my first infant death. I focus on who I am, who I'm with, and who we become together. I wrestled with my womanhood and gender issues in ministry. I begin to offer loving-kindness to myself during meditation each day - something I hadn't realized was missing.

August In which I finish my chaplaincy internship and miss it desperately. I ruminate on my forceful nature, and why we live, which after a summer of death and illness, seems appropriate. I begin to sport a lovely case of poison ivy, passed to me by my loving four year old daughter. I prepare to become the mom of a six year old son, and work on my own authenticity.

September I head back to Chicago with joy in my heart! I stay with my friend Karen and her amazing family. I soak up all the collegiality I can stand before I come home again. I preached at my internship congregation for the first time and got lovely feedback, my 14 year old daughter started community college, my family delved into my new internship congregation and got to go to Unirondack and kayak, create, sing and worship;  I ruminate on the different hats I wear: parent, friend, minister, student, colleague...; and the importance of silence in my daily life.

October October was the month of conferences and trainings! I went to the SLD Leadership Workout and got a shot in the arm about Systems theory by Steinke, which I was already studying at Meadville. I helped Rebecca Parker, President of Starr King, with her book sales after she preached and lectured at First Unitarian Church of Rochester; I went to a training for Connect & Breathe, a post-abortion talkline; and I did the closing service at the SLD's social justice conference. My dreams tell me to Choose Life and read to me from Hafiz and Rumi; my oldest half-brother died suddenly, necessitating hard decisions about informing my father, who had dementia; and then served in a wedding the next day. I reflect further on the complications of family and dementia.

November I have wrist surgery on my other hand, and have a cast for 10 days.  I fall in love with my new Wellspring group, I struggle with conflict resolution as a faith-based practice of right relation; my 2nd child turns 12, and my father dies of a sudden heart attack, leaving my life in disarray and a gaping hole. I preached soon thereafter and got through it with flying colors somehow. Thanksgiving is a bit of a drab affair, but we manage. I have all of my father's things to go through but am not ready yet.

December I have a birthday. We celebrate a scaled down Christmas, except my MIL goes crazy and buys a million gifts! My youngest daughter turns four and I reflect on her wonderful homebirth. We go home to visit friends and my mother, who offloads all the jewelry that my dad has given her over the years. I cry. I am tired. My children all act insane while we are traveling. They miss their grandfather, they miss home, they are hormonal and wired and crazed. We are home and ready to welcome in the New Year. We will all be asleep when it arrives, so PARTY ON FOLKs!!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Lucy Lucy

Lucy Lucy

Lucy is Four today, and I was inspired to repost her birth story, since this is my last baby, and she's not a baby anymore ::sigh::. Oh, I miss the rush of pregnancy, birth, newborns, breastfeeding, holding, snuggling....

Sunday, December 5, 2010


I was approached by the Director of Lay Ministries and the Associate Minister at my home congregation in Rochester to become part of the Pastoral Care Team, along with many other people. A final group of about 9 of us went through training, and this weekend were commissioned by the congregation at all three services.

I cannot even tell you what an honor it was, and how humbling it was, to stand before the congregation that I love so much, that has supported every step of my ministerial preparation so far, and to enter into covenant with them to serve their pastoral needs the best way I can. My heart was full to overflowing and I am so grateful to be standing with such an amazing team of people.

My friend Michael, who I served my chaplaincy internship with last summer, came last evening to support me, which was such a wonderful gift. My son came today, and sat in the back, smiling, winking and mouthing "I love you" and blowing me kisses the whole time I was on stage. I'm sure the congregation must have wondered why I was grinning like an idiot, but that's why. My own son was so proud to have me up there. That's my mom! I was sad not to have my other family members there, but circumstances prevented it.

I am so grateful to be asked to continue my learning of pastoral ministry at Rochester Unitarian, and to serve my congregation in this way. It will also be a continuing asset to my internship at May Memorial UU, as I maintain and add to my pastoral care skills.

Honestly, the best I can say is that my heart was full. I wish my dad could have been there.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

About 25%

I am coming up on being about 1/4 of the way into my congregational internship. I did my mid-term evaluation with my teaching minister today, and have my second meeting with my lay committee on Monday. I'm feeling more serious about formation, as the real work of taking criticism and working through it begins. I'm also about 1/2 way through the whole seminary experience - more than 1/2 in terms of credits, or at least I will be, at the end of January.

I had a lengthy meeting with my minister today, which was a great conversation about theology and beliefs, which believe it or not, can be difficult to have with one's congregation. The faculty at Meadville Lombard asked us, at this point, to reflect on what we have learned about congregational life, and about ourselves as ministers, as well as what we use as theological resources.

I am still waffling back and forth about how much I loved chaplaincy, and what I should do with that desire. Should I go and do a one year residency after I graduate, and take that time to meet with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee? The difference between chaplaincy and congregational ministry for me is that I love the intensity of chaplaincy. I love what it is, I love being there, I love the intentionality of it. I love the diversity of congregational life, I love the long-term knowledge of people's lives and stories, I love preaching, I love small group ministry. If I could find a way to do both, I would. And maybe there is a way to do that, but I just don't know yet. And I jump right into more training (though paid) as a resident chaplain in another 18 months? God, I'm waiting for a sign ;).

I'm also feeling just about 25% right now. I am so unmotivated to finish the three assignments I have left for my church history class that I can barely stand it. I have SO much prep to do for January and have not been able to do almost any of it. I have a lot going on in my personal life that is taking a lot of energy, yet I have been spending more time with the kids than ever, doing homeschooling, and fun stuff, and it is SO great! It is the one thing that is truly energizing right now.

Maybe if I can convince the girls to decorate for Christmas, it will cheer up the house and have a positive effect on me!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Preaching, Napping, Shopping

I had the typical intern assignment (or so I hear) of preaching on the holiday weekend, but had a pretty full house! When I planned the service, I had no idea that it would be so pertinent to my life in the moment when I was standing up to preach it. It was on the darkness that some people face in this time of light and bustle of holiday time, and how we are called as people of faith to pay attention and be open to the needs of those around us, whether spoken or not. I'll post some of the readings at the end. The first reading I used mentions God several times - someone walked out during it, but whether it was in response to God, or a call to the restroom, I will never know, though that person didn't come back as far as I know.

I read through the service quite a bit yesterday, not sure if I could make it through it with my own grief so fresh and sharp, but once I got onto the stage, everything fell into place. One person told me today that I am perhaps an example of the "best kind of humanist," and I took that as a glowing compliment. Another told me that she couldn't say that she enjoyed the sermon, but it certainly gave her food for thought (I admit, there were dark parts to it, but life is not all goodness and light, now is it?).

I credit my success in large part to preparation, but also to the love and care of our music director, Glen, who was incredibly solicitous of me, empowered me to change the order of service as needed, and did a great job planning music while I was on personal leave. His quiet emanation of love and support from the piano was palpable to me as I led the service, and for the first time, I really felt like I owned it. It was mine. Start to finish, music, readings, my scarf falling off in the middle of my sermon, stumbling over a word here or was mine to own. I also had the most gorgeous decor behind me on the sacred shelf; I wish I had a photo of it to show you, because it was so creative and soft and touching!

In any event, it was a good way to get "back on the horse" after a week of grief and mourning. A dear congregant came up to me and told me that when her husband died, she got herself to sleep that first night, and woke up in the morning only to open her eyes and think: "GodDAMN, he's still dead!" It made me laugh, but it was also so true. I have received so many cards, calls and emails from the congregants at my teaching site and my home congregation that I am overwhelmed with the love of it all. I feel incredibly blessed to be going through this loss while in ministerial formation. There is no other time in one's life probably when I will again have this kind of daily support and love from such a wide and diverse group of colleagues, professors, friends, family and congregants.

I continue to grieve. The thought of my father's hands - large, confident, firm, but gentle. The idea that those hands have doppelgangers on the person of my uncle is a comfort. I feel my father's spirit strongly. I see it in my son, where I had not noticed it before, but he has my father's wave of curl on the back of his head, his outgoing and laughing personality, his ability to make friends instantly and everywhere. I have been arranging photos and wrestling with the complexities of his life and its impact on my extended family, many of whom are estranged or barely known to me, often for reasons that are barely known.

I feel love, anger, loss, pain. I want to bargain, though I am glad he is finally at peace. I said everything I needed to say to him back in July when I went home during CPE training to be with him during his TIA. But there is always one more affirmation of love we can give.

So I came home, I tried to nap. And failed. And took my oldest daughter - just her and I - to the outlets for a new winter coat for her. She looks dashing in a navy blue pea coat and a black autumn trench coat. We bought a few small gifts for her siblings, and had fun at the grocery store after. My children have been seeking me out for this one on one time. A private chat here, a movie there; someone sprawled across the foot of my bed, telling me their frustrations, hopes, dreams and successes.

Sundays are my favorite days. Church and family. Work and ministry. School, learning, love, life. It's all of a piece on Sunday.

I think I'm ready to re-enter the world tomorrow. The first Monday of a new life without George. But with his memory and his spirit at hand.


The holiday season is upon us, and as David Barry so sagely said, 

In the old days, it was not called the 

Holiday Season; the Christians called 

it 'Christmas' and went to church; the 

Jews called it 'Hanukka' and went to 

synagogue; the atheists went to 

parties and drank. People passing 

each other on the street would say 

'Merry Christmas!' or 'Happy 

Hanukka!' or (to the atheists) 'Look 

out for the wall!'

Rumi, the great Sufi mystic, says:
This being human is a guesthouse.

Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight . . .

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Living with Death

My father, George Spahr, Jr. died last Friday. When I woke up this morning, I found it difficult to believe that it will be a week tomorrow. It has all been a blur of phone calls, emails, arrangements, and a flood of feelings that would make Kubler-Ross proud.

My dad had been in assisted living/senior apartments/nursing home dementia care for most of the last 20 years, and for more than 10 of those years, I was his guardian and power of attorney. The last five years, he was in a dementia unit, where he couldn't wander off and get hurt or lost, and yet, he was the most "with it" patient there, and spent a lot of time on the other floors, doing activities and entertaining the staff.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I am incredibly grateful for the staff at Centre Crest, in Bellefonte, PA. The nurses and recreational therapists kept my father active, his brain stimulated, and appreciated (for the most part) his humor and flirting. I was so relieved to have him in a safe environment, where he was loved. The staff even took him home for holiday dinners, and helped him pick out small presents for my children and I each Christmas. The last two years have been increasingly difficult, as his mobility was more compromised, and I couldn't take him out as much, while trying to manage my two young children at the same time. I missed taking him to the People's Choice Festival, and to Memorial Day festivities in Boalsburg, PA, where I grew up.

I have so much gratitude and a pile of thank you notes to send out. I have dozens of notes and emails that I have filed in a folder to be answered when I am feeling ready; I have phone calls to return. I am blessed to have friends in my home town who hosted my family, provided a luncheon after the service (Thank you to Jane and Anne, and my mom), my uncle and aunt who drove from Brooklyn, NY to support me and honor my father's life, and my former minister, Rev. Mark Hayes from the UUFCC, who provided a lovely Celebration of Life.

The Heintzelman Funeral Home in State College was outstanding in their compassion, kindness and professionalism. I know it was a small service, but it meant the world to me, and they treated me with the same respect I believe they would have showed to the wealthiest family in town. Jan took care of every single detail, including getting my father's veteran's records, planning the eventual burial of my father's ashes in Manchester, PA, and handling everything with grace and delicacy. I cannot recommend them highly enough to anyone local to central PA. My husband has born the brunt of childcare and cooking for days now.  He gracefully took care of the children during the planning of, and the services themselves. He has been in the background of every moment, bringing me coffee and plates of food and letting me sleep when I can. He has respected my private grief, and I have watched his own on his tired and drawn face. He has been right there, as was my mother, my sister, my dearest friends. I may not have acknowledged them in the moment, but their love has allowed me to do what needed to be done, and it now allows me to take this quiet time before I must get back to course work, internship and parenting.

Rev. Hayes read something (I have the book somewhere around, as he kindly gave me a copy for my personal and ministerial use) about Why? That this is the unanswerable question of death. I have not been sleeping well, waking in the middle of the night for hours. My friend Jane counseled me to consider this time a gift - a time of quiet reflection away from the business of the day - and I've been trying to see it that way. These late night times have given me some space to grieve in the whirlwind of the last week. Our culture does not give us a lot of time, but I have had what I'm sure are the same feelings and thoughts of many people who have dealt with death and grief, as we all must.

This is getting long, so I will write more in another post - I process and learn through writing, and it's easier for me to deal with logistics and facts at first, and then make room for the feelings. I've had good advice from friends - make time to grieve now, while the world gives you space. Be prepared for it to be even worse in a year. One thing ministry has taught me is to take care of myself - all those people screaming self-care at me have been heard. I have turned off the phone, filed the notes and emails, and have gone into a private time.

I know my dad is gone, but I can't really believe it. I miss him.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


On Saturday, my second daughter will be 12. Hard to believe really. But she is, and she is wonderful, intelligent, creative, artistic, FUN!, loving, thoughtful, and absolutely unique!

Happy birthday Soren! I love you all the way to the stars and back!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

More on conflict resolution as a matter of faith

For my congregational studies class, we are conferencing this week on conflict. We are reading Congregational Life Dynamics and Conflict Management: An Application of Family Systems Theory.

One section stood out to me in particular; how does our faith form our approach to conflict management?

The following premises are distinctive to our faith, and they matter. We Unitarian
Universalists seek
· Not just to affirm and promote in the abstract, but to respect one another’s dignity actively, in all our encounters.
o Thus, to engage each other caringly and carefully, and not to behave in ways that are intentionally hurtful.
o To rely on persuasion rather than coercion.
· To accept one another as growing persons, neither perfect nor “jerks.”
o Thus, to avoid blaming one another for problems.
o To take care not to engage in mind reading or in attributing unsavory motives to others.
· To believe that each of us has some part of the truth and rarely, if ever, does any one of us have the whole or sole truth.
o Thus, to speak our truth.
o To listen to the truth of our companions.
o To welcome, not fear, our diversity.
· To believe that a congregation exists to serve a greater good.
o Thus, not to insist only on our own way (my self trumps all others).
o To appreciate that there are many pathways and manners of ethical
human expression.

I think that one of the hardest ones for me - and in my experience with others in intentional conflict management situations, is the desire to assign blame, or to "mind read." As much as I hate it when people do these things to me, it is easy to fall into these methods of trying to make sense of a situation, especially when it is not clear that the other party is not playing by these same rules!

As part of Clinical Pastoral Education this summer, we studied systems theory for many hours. I expanded some of my learnings into a homily for my learning convocation in September, and distilled down four important points:

1. Make lots of room. There is room for the other and for difference. Life is both...and, not either...or.

2. Be curious. Don't make assumptions and try to make connections.

3. Stay in the moment. Everything is happening in the present. Let the past and future fend for themselves in a conflict.

4. Our own emotions are a barometer for what is happening in the larger group or conflict.

Going back to these basic points of faith, and of the reality of how systems work can help one to stay grounded in the moment, to avoid assumptions of intent, to make room for differences, and to stay open to possible connections.

The document goes on to say, with simple profundity:

"For that matter, this may be the core issue of conflict management: working to create a desired change without trying to force it on others. Somehow, we need to come to a shared desire, mutually respectful of our
divergent needs and wants, if we are to change the balance of forces in the relational system.

Conflict management, then, may have something to do with managing one’s self rather than others. Systems theory argues that if I change me within our relationship, it will change you. So here’s the ultimate paradox: When I am feeling conflicted with you, I don’t need to do anything to you. I need only to work on me and my own functioning."

This is also at the core of Wellspring. Letting the shy soul peek out, letting our own inner voice come into sacred space, where it is respected and able to be heard. Now, if only all of life was run like a Circle of Trust!


Just like the past two years, Wellspring continues to be a source of spiritual deepening and a source for challenging me to think about how I live out my faith and my values. Today our topic was Our Question Mark faith, and we talked about theology, and the Seven Principles, and how our childhood experience of religion is something we carry with us, or discard, or change to meet our current needs.

The conversation with this group is amazing and insightful. I am continually awed at the power of circles, of listening with intentionality, and with no desire to fix or save, no setting each other straight, no advising. It's not easy to do - we are good people and we want to help. But the power that comes from being heard in a sacred and safe space - that is more important. 

I haven't written much lately. I've been wrestling with a bunch of things. Surgery on my wrist last week, frustrating situations in my personal life, and feeling hurt by actions beyond my control that affect my children's relationships and wellbeing. I have found it easier to retreat into silence, here and elsewhere. 

Recognizing others' inherent worth and dignity is not always an easy thing, and being in right relation with people who seem intent on doing hurtful things is definitely not easy. The balance between setting appropriate boundaries and having clear and positive communications is one I can't see my way through yet this week. That said, there is a time for advice, and I'm working on getting some, from a variety of sources, which will help me to move forward in accordance with my values I hope. 

There is a balance between doing what is right and necessary, and doing that which is retributive - especially when others are pursuing an agenda of retaliation. It's hard to take the high road all the time, especially as I move into later stages of formation and discernment, and the ethical stakes are raised. It's a huge responsibility. It seems that the words I've swallowed so many times have become lodged in my throat and are causing actual physical symptoms. 

Again, Wellspring encourages me to continue daily prayer and spiritual practice, to meet with a spiritual advisor, and to keep asking what my faith leads me to do in my life. These are good paths, and I feel blessed to be in good company. 

One way I'm practicing ministry these days is through the Church of the Larger Fellowship's Prison Letter Writing Ministry. I have been paired with a young man out west, who is in prison for a long time. We have exchanged one letter each, and I find him fascinating. It's a good way to understand more about oppression and cultural systems of legality, of family, of society. And I hope it will teach me more about being open to the inherent worth and dignity of every person, in every person that I come into relationship with. 

Friday, October 22, 2010


I was afraid to tell my father about the death of my brother, because I am afraid that he will forget. And then I'll have to tell him again. I talked to him today, and I think he has indeed forgotten about it. Now see, this is part of what informs my theology. Because really, what kind of God would allow almost 40 years of debilitating brain damage, then take away a son, and then let my dad have to find out over and over again?

Certainly not my God, but perhaps the God of my childhood.

And while someone is helping me to understand theodicy, perhaps they can explain why my 6 year old son is obsessed with this song, which he has heard perhaps twice, before I really paid attention to the lyrics.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Grace and forgiveness

My paternal grandmother's name was Grace. My daughter Lucy is named after her - Lucy Grace Antoinette.

Grandma died when I was pretty young, but I remember her smile, and her white hair, and her diminutive height. She had five children, my father being the oldest. He then had three children to his first wife, the oldest of which just died.

I remember going to the annual Christmas party at my aunt's house. It was my favorite time of year. My childish memories are of the swinging wicker chair that the kids all loved to sit in. Of the spiral staircase leading up to the roof and the hot tub. Of the bar, where all the adults congregated, drinking mixed drinks and eating delicious food. There were tons of cookies, and everyone dressed to the nines. My aunt Luella, with her bright red hair, loved me to pieces and always made me feel special. 

My aunt's husband was an identical twin, and they got a kick out of confusing people. My oldest brother has a daughter, Jenny, who is about four years younger than me, so by the time I got around to being interested in her, my parents were divorced and I wasn't attending the party anymore, or she was maybe on to more interesting things as a young teen. I only met her little brother once or twice, but I remember my oldest brother always being kind to me, as was his wife. 

I am the only child of my father's second marriage, and my mother has never been easy to get along with. The boys didn't get to see my dad much after he married my mom, and especially after I was born - and then 4 months later he became permanently disabled with a brain aneurism that left him institutionalized for almost 4 years. 

There haven't been a lot of opportunities over the years to build relationships with my siblings, though my sister and I (from my mom's first marriage) are now close and have shared the trials and tribulations of marriage, moving, parenting, and now caring for an aging parent. And I don't think that my dad's family were given much of a chance to understand how changed he was by his brain damage. And I think that he left a lot of hurt in his wake up until that point, so it was easiest to just slip away and let my mom deal with the bulk of his care for years and years. 

For the last 10 years or so, I have been my father's caretaker, which is a big job, especially emotionally, as he deteriorates into dementia, and has had to have increasing levels of nursing home care. My dad's family showed no interest in helping me with that, or even in staying in touch, which hurt my father very much - but I suppose they may have figured turnabout was fair play. I don't know, really. 

I do know that he is our father. And it hurts to have been left out of my brother's obituary. I have never had much in the way of a close family and I cherish what I have, and build what I don't, out of whole cloth, and loving people in my life. It is almost amusing to me how much it hurts for my dad, and perhaps me, just by association, to be rejected again. 

Regardless, I refuse to do that to others. I have joined the CLF's prison ministry, writing letters; and am going to be part of a pastoral care team at Rochester Unitarian, where I can continue to serve and reach out to congregants in need. Thankfully, I have what I need right now. Friends and a husband who understand my lifelong pain around my family's disassociation with each other, and who cherish me for who I am, not because of the sins of my parents. 

Forgiveness is the art of building bridges across pain. It has been a difficult concept for me over the years, and one that I continue to wrestle with. 

Grace is undeserved and unexpected. My sister often surprises me with moments of caring and grace. She did so this week. My mother often makes me laugh uncontrollably at her crazy sense of humor. My children lavish me with undeserved and expected hugs and kisses and affirmations of my mothering journey. My life is full. Grief and loss, joy and grace, are all steps on the daily travels of my heart. I am grateful for this fullness of my days - even the sorrows amidst the joys.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Church Mission and personal blessings

Pathways Church - Sermon from 10-17-2010 - Standing For Grace from Pathways Church on Vimeo.

Thanks LE for the link. I just love watching David preach. I feel so blessed to have him as the chaplin at Meadville Lombard because boy can he rile me up. Yep, it's 34 minutes long. Watch it anyway.

I have had a long day. My father is grieving and cannot go to his son's funeral. I do not have throat cancer, but apparently have some sort of muscle "spasm" in my esophagus that is causing me to feel as if I have a golf ball in my throat for the last five months. I don't have answers but I have Xanax ;).

I have a beautiful teenager who is smart and kicking community college's ass. I have a wonderful home congregation and a wonderful teaching congregation. I spend my days doing the things I love - parenting and ministry.

I am truly blessed. I have friends checking in on me; colleagues honoring the work that I am doing. Family who supports my work. And a lovely dog who sleeps by my bedside and accompanies me on my morning walks, enjoying the deer who peek out at us, and the waves of our neighbors. Life is really good.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Connect & Breathe, Loss, and Family Stories

It has been a full and varied week, that's for sure. First off, I need to let people know that my brother Craig, passed away quite suddenly this morning. Many of you do not know that I have a brother, but I actually have three. I have been estranged from Craig for at least 10 years, and am only now beginning to understand why.

They are my half-brothers, from my father's first marriage, and we didn't live together ever, as they were in their teens and 20s when I was born. My father was a totally different person prior to my birth, and his subsequent brain aneurism when I was 4 months old. He was, according to various reports, not a particularly nice person. So my brothers had a completely different father than the kind, involved, present, and stay-at-home (disabled) father that I grew up with. That has colored their relationship (or lack thereof) with him quite a bit, and my own mother's stories never filled in the blanks in ways that made sense.

My brother and I had a falling out over the care of our father, which I took over 10+ years ago, and although it is too late to go back and mend bridges, I think I am beginning to understand some of his thinking and reasons, based on his very different relationship with our father, but I am sad there was not a reconciliation. My father missed Craig and his other sons very much and with the dementia, has ceased to understand their estrangement. I am grateful and blessed to be slowly building bridges with the youngest of my three brothers.

The hardest part was telling my father, who suffers from dementia, that his oldest son had died. I'm so grateful, every day, for having done chaplaincy training. And I'm grateful for the RN who was compassionate and authoritative in helping me figure out how to best break this heartbreaking news to him. I am so sad for Craig's wife and children, for my surviving brothers, who were close to him, and to his many friends. It is a tragedy for any parent to lose their child, as my father has, and he died too young.

I found this news out right after the evening church service today, which came after a day of talkline training for Connect & Breathe  where I will be volunteering as part of the sexual justice component of my internship. It is the east coast version of Exhale, and has been supported by Planned Parenthood and my home congregation, First Unitarian Church of Rochester (check out the sermon No Secrets).

I was conflicted about Connect at first - I have concerns about the assumption that all UUs are pro-choice, but this organization is careful to not be pro-choice or pro-life, or to use that language. It is a place for women who have undergone an abortion to call and talk, and the mission is to empower women to serve as their own moral agents around their reproductive health, and to trust themselves. I have personal and professional reasons for wanting to offer this support to women, and since it's going to be the only game in town on the East Coast, refer, refer, refer! Phone lines are set to open on 11/15. This is important work, people.

Tomorrow I will be participating in a wedding, which is exciting and joyful. Sorrow and joy, the hallmarks of ministry and of life, every single day.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Grace: Unexpected Gifts of Possibility and Hope

I woke up this morning from a couple of very intense dreams, but they started to fade as soon as I rolled out of bed. The feeling I was left with though, was one of youthful expectancy. In my dreams, I was a young mom again, and then just a young woman. In my sleep, I went back in time and when I awoke, it was with that sense of excited suspense that doesn't occur nearly as often as I head towards middle age.

I wanted to badly to go back to sleep; to hold on to that moment of hope, of possibility! There was a young man reading to me in my dream - a passage from Rumi, or perhaps Hafiz, and he asked me what it meant. I said something youthfully profound, but then finished with what I preach nearly every day, to everyone around me. Choose Life! It means choose life - don't operate from a place of fear! Choose Life! And then I awoke, to my daughter's small feet digging into my ribs, to the dog crying to go out, to the life around me, rushing by so early in the morning, already.

Working in ministry is the place where I get to feel those sacred moments of hope and of possibility when I'm awake. Watching someone find out a truth about themselves in a small ministry group. Having someone hug me after the service, with tears in their eyes, moved by something that was maybe just a sentence for me - but was life changing for them. Sometimes it's me sitting in a service finding myself overflowing with joy and tears.

I'm still holding on to that feeling mid-morning, alongside the reality of the day before me, that is filled with yet unfulfilled possibilities. Anything could happen! And that is Grace.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A month of awesome!

October is busy but with amazing opportunities. Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the UU Leadershop Workout put on by the St. Lawrence District. There was an inspiring keynote by Connie Goodbread, the Interim District Executive for SLD. She talked about only having two years to work with us, and a LOT about systems theory, and Steinke's Healthy Congregations, which my Meadville class has been studying this semester. She studied with him for six years, and I'd love to talk more with her. She talked about how being an interim requires her to "enter the system lightly," yet how she is a blunt speaker, a do-er, and wants us to trust wading out into the deep waters with her. As an intern entering a two-year position, just about everything she said resonated with me. Nothing she said was new to me, in terms of thinking about growth, and hospitality, and systems. But it was a good reminder that our leaders are leading us in the right direction - and we have some great ministers blogging about their own journeys in this direction, that I have the privilege to read through UUpdates every day.

Today, I did the reflection in the worship service, on hospitality. I enjoyed it very much, and especially enjoyed having lunch with the congregation and meeting more people! I got to attend the RE Committee after that, which was comfortable and inpiring.

Next week, Rebecca Parker, president of Starr King, is preaching all three services at Rochester Unitarian, and doing a presentation and book signing Saturday evening, which I've been invited to help out with ::::beam::::. How awesome to get to hang out with Rev. Parker! Sunday, I'm helping out with the youth service, as all the rest of the staff will be gone from May Memorial.

The following weekend, I am attending a training for Connect & Breathe, an initiative spearheaded by Rochester Unitarian to provide non-judgmental post-abortion counseling, modeled on Exhale. This will be my sexual justice work for my internship agreement this year, and I am really jazzed about it, after listening to Rev. Kaaren Anderson's sermon yesterday. It's not posted yet, but it's called No Secrets. I had some reservations initially, but they have been cleared up, and I believe this is faith work that is imperative. More about this soon.

The following weekend is the NYSCU conference, where I will serve on a panel about internship, with my friend and Rochester Unitarian intern, Kathy Tew Rickey. UUA Moderator Gini Courter is speaking, which is not to miss.

October 30th, Kate Braestrup is speaking at the Social Justice Conference, and I just read her book today, and cried the whole way through it. Then there is the Halloween Party at First UU of Syracuse!

So a month of awesome! Not enough time left for studying, but I'm hoping that after this month of committee meetings and getting my feet under me, a more normal schedule will emerge.

November 1st is my first internship committee meeting. So that month will start off with a bang as well.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Morning Thoughts

I've been reflecting on my daily spiritual practice a lot lately, thanks to Wellspring starting up again. It has gone through some changes over the last several years, and I find it oddly amusing that it is currently working best in its original incarnation - walking, letting thoughts go, intentionally listening to the world. I find that right now, in this time, morning meditation, if I can stop making lists in my head long enough, allows for some of my best and most introspective thinking.

I have several sermons to compose soon, and I often come home from walking inspired to write, and with a clear head.

The last three weeks have left me, like Josephine March, with a rumpled mind. The start of the school year for myself and even for my homeschooled kids, is always a time of transition. New schedules, new studies, new demands on our time, all create good and bad stress on the family system. The last six months, my morning meditation has been more regimented, with specific guided meditations using prayer beads. But I found myself  no longer feeling filled up by it; all the noise of my life has left me aching for silence. I cannot wait until the end of the day when everyone goes to bed and I can be alone, just for a little while, with nothing but silence.

So silence is what I create on my morning walks. Silence to reflect, and mostly to just be. I find myself filled with curiosity about what the next incarnation of my practice will become.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Best friends

Today, I put aside studying for the afternoon so that my 11 year old could spend that time with her best friend, and I could do the same with my best friend, the mom of said 11 year old's best friend. Confused yet?

I find that in ministry, it is so important to have a spiritual director, and a therapist isn't a bad idea. But having a best friend to vent to, to keep you straight, to tell you where you screwed up, and let you know where you didn't? That is a true necessity.

When I screw up, I always think, WWLS? (What would L say?). She doesn't pull any punches with me. She's kind, but direct. I have a lot of people I love in my home congregation and am finding more lovelies in my teaching congregation, but there are boundaries as you move further into the process. (For a great read on this topic, check this out.) It's imperative to have a friend you can trust. Not that we haven't had our moments of frustration with each other; after six years of weekly plus contact, that's bound to happen. But I'm so grateful that our friendship has survived all this time.

In Wellspring this week, we were talking about Parker Palmer's thoughts on living undivided lives. Living your faith, your values, while remaining open to dialogue and being non-judgmental is a hard row to hoe sometimes. How do we live out who we are and what we believe, and have prophetic voices, not just in our ministry role, but in our lives, without being seen as preachy, or goody-two-shoes, or inauthentic?

It's a balancing act. I am so glad that I have a few good friends who I can bounce these things off of and who give me honest feedback - who see my whole self - not just one aspect of me. Student, intern, student minister, mom, friend, wife, adversary, teacher, board member, employee - I am all of these things, but there are few that see the whole person and love me for that, warts and all.

Taking off the different hats that we wear and being our true, whole selves, is important for everyone. Having a friend who will empower you do that, listen to your hopes and fears, successes and challenges? It's like that credit card commercial. Priceless.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bears and Pirates and Kayaks, Oh My!

My family has survived their first trip to Unirondack!

On the way there, a young black bear sprinted across the street in front of us about 20 miles outside of camp. It was quite exciting! I got to kayak for the first time ever, and went out three times. This afternoon, we saw a loon as we were getting ready to head out. Lucy and I went out in a two-person kayak, which was a lot more work than the single. My 11 yo kicked my butt in paddling.

When Tom took Jude and Lucy out in the rowboat, Lucy saw a sailboat, and said, "Jude, oh no! Pirates!"

Jude calmly took stock of the situation and said, "Lucy, those aren't pirates."

"How do you know," posits Lucy.

"Pirates don't wear lifejackets!"


As a student minister, I felt this was such a great opportunity to get to know some of the congregation in a more informal setting. And there's nothing that builds humility like having your 3 and 5 year old in the dining hall, right? I got to hang out with teens, littles, and adults. I got to play Crypto with my teaching pastor (she kicked my butt). I got to go to a talent show, a bonfire where the teens ran a reflective listening circle, and light the chalice for a sweet and short worship service this morning.

My teen got swept right up with the other teens and my 3 yo fell in love, over and over again. I know this must be an awesome congregation, because we felt just like family by the end. Everyone pitched in to cook, clean, and watch kids. There was guitar playing, and drumming, and piano, and singing. It was everything I had heard of Unirondack. My older kids now want to switch summer camps from the YMCA after years!

I have a lot to think about for my gratitude sermon at Thanksgiving, that's for sure. I can't wait to see everyone again next Sunday!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The new year

I don't know why a new year starts in January. Everyone knows it starts in September!

Whilst my family one by one falls to the flu that I started out with two weeks ago, life continues apace. My oldest started "school" for the first time since 2nd grade, with 3 classes at the community college. She seems to be enjoying the reading; we'll see what happens when the writing starts.

My son is ready to delve into the world of sports a bit more this year it seems. We are also planning weekly library days, which I am excited about. Free wifi! Near Starbucks!

I participated in my Wellspring retreat today and am very excited about the opportunity to co-facilitate this group. We had a wonderful kick-off, and there are just so many joys to small group ministry. This is a special group as well because it is made up of congregants from two different congregations, so there is a great border-crossing (in Meadville language) opportunity afoot!

It was also my first full day in my internship site, and it was really wonderful to meet with my supervising minister and talk about the topic of the week at seminary - multiculturalism and institutional change. I left with two more books to add to my reading list, one a history of my internship site, which will be very helpful in contextualizing the systems at work there. We talked more about the social location of congregations and how balancing growth, multiculturalism, systems, etc. is a ministerial balancing act. It's so much to think about, and I keep mentally stepping back more and more to try to encompass the whole picture; it becomes a bit overwhelming and underscores the need for good futures planning!

I am starting to get the lay of land for the different committees at the church and when they meet so I can start to float through and shadow them. Now, off to finish work and the several hundred pages of reading to do, plus that 3 page essay on church history.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

How joyous!

Today was my first Sunday at my new internship congregation, and I preached. I think we had a decent turnout; I even heard rumors that some people ventured out just to quench their curiosity about the new student minister!

It was such an incredible joy to get to meet so many congregants, to share coffee hour with them, and to start to listen to their stories. It was wonderful to be in the pulpit and to get feedback. It was amazing to have my two oldest children with me.

Chaplaincy is short-term ministry, and the challenge of a two-year placement, where I really have an opportunity to partner with the staff, and to know more deeply the lives of the congregation.

Joy, joy, joy!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

and so it begins...

I am sitting in the airport in Detroit, waiting for my flight to Buffalo to board. I wish I was home already, but I am actually enjoying my last hours of silence and intentionality before re-entry into the chaos of my household. My family is Noisy, as I discover when I take my rare trips away and come back. And ministry is often not. It is filled with lots of silence, and listening, and creation of sacred space, and the loudness of joyous song and celebration. It's a different kind of noise, and I always need a little time to adjust.

I am returning from the start of my second year at Meadville, and the beginning Convocation for congregational studies. I am returning home tired from too little sleep, but absolutely invigorated with the joy of spending time with my colleagues, friends and the ML faculty. I am rejuvenated by vision, passion, and excitement for the upcoming year of congregational internship. I'm thrilled about the things we will be studying, a little apprehensive about the amount of reading I need to complete for my church history course and my three intensives in January, and absolutely filled with love for my fellow seminarians.

It was so great to spend time with some new-to-me faculty, and to spend hours talking about clinical pastoral education, different kinds of ministry and the intersection of life and ministry. I feel so incredibly blessed by my family, who supports me in the insane demands of seminary. I have endless gratitude for the sacrifices they have all made in the last year, and I hope this year will be a little easier.

I woke up this morning with "We Go Marching in the Light of God" ringing in my ears. It ended my CPE, and it starts the beginning of this new journey.

Blessings on my friend Karen, who hosted me at her home, to Tina Porter and the entire Student Services staff, who make things easy for me, and the God of on-time air travel, who so far, has made travel seamless and pleasant, which is rare for me.

I am ready to start. Ready to step out into the next piece of this journey. And I'm preaching tomorrow morning at May Memorial UU Society, if you want to feel the love!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mom to the Screaming Masses: Onions, Parfaits and People Have Layers in Common

Mom to the Screaming Masses: Onions, Parfaits and People Have Layers in Common

I totally identify with Carmen's post. I don't usually do memes anymore, but I thought this one was kind of fun. I have come a looong way in overcoming my judgmentalism, and in trying to figure out people's intentions, and the more I work on it, the more it drives me batty when people do it to me. (Yes, dear, I am aware that I will be dealing with a lot of transference as a minister, and countertransference, and all that good stuff!)

Anyway, Carmen's meme is kind of fun. I won't reproduce it here, but it reminds me that we're all working on becoming more authentically ourselves, and that helps us to be in right relation with others.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Odds and Ends

I seldom comment on political topics, because others are so much more eloquent than I, but I am increasingly frustrated with the political furor over the Mosque "on" Ground Zero, and even on Obama's comments. I am constantly amazed at disinformation and how easily "herd" mentality takes over, as Dowd says. When are Americans going to stop being so narrow-minded and gullible? When are they going to act like educated adults instead of the boys in Lord of the Flies?

I am also really enjoying the 12 part (so far) conversation over at East of Midnight on RE for kids and adults. I added a few comments, fwiw.

I am struggling to finish some reading and writing for the start of school's convocation. Whoever thought it would be a good idea to give summer homework while were all in CPE?

Our last week of vacation is starting with rain, which is putting a crimp in my plans to go to the Finger Lakes, as is the falling through of a house sitter, which I had hoped would buy us a few days at Lake George, or even the Eastern Shore. :::sigh::: I guess that buys me extra time to do the aforementioned homework.

I have been slowly getting the house uncluttered from the summer, and trying to figure out how to manage 6 people's schedules in the measly amount of hours allotted to a day. Seminary + work + community college for the teen + homeschooling programs and academia for the other 2 + plus keeping the preschooler alive seems like a gargantuan task. Thank the heavens for Google Calendar!

I also need to plan the Boy's birthday party. How did that happen so fast? Ideas for cheap and fun presents for a six year old would be appreciated. So far he's getting a plasma car, which he's super excited about.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Adventures in Parenting

I have enjoyed being with my children as they have grown up. I have made choices I thought were caring and sustainable - homebirth, cloth diapering, breastfeeding, homeschooling, encouraging feelings and closeness.

This has all been well and good but now my youngest child has punished me, but good ;). She weaned from breastfeeding quite some time ago, and at the same time, took up "rubbing" our skin as a form of connection. She has kept up with this habit for quite a long time and even likes to fall asleep while rubbing my tummy or my arm.

Yesterday we went to a friend's to play and at the end of the day, I picked up Lucy and she, true to form, rubbed my bare back (I was wearing a tank top). I now am sporting a lovely case of poison ivy, right where she rubbed my back. I can't reach it, I can't see it, and I can't put lotion on it without help. Thankfully, my family and friends have been willing to help put cortisone cream on it but ow!

Who knew that all this loving parenting would end up like this ;) . One gratitude is that neither child developed poison ivy. I myself was immune to it until I had my own children. 

Thank goodness for a spiritual practice. Meditation actually helps a bit. de

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Why Live?

UU Salon's question of the month is Why Live?

This is one of those deep existential questions, along with "Why are we here?" that I always kind of scoff at, because it doesn't have a clear answer. I also have dealt with my own and others' severe depression, both organic and situational, which puts this question into stark relief.

There are a lot of facets to this question - biological, existential, purpose, and more.

In working with ill and dying people this summer, I saw that we live out of a biological need to exist. There are those who are clear about how far they want technology to extend this biological imperative. Some want a no-holds-barred, claws dug in, approach to sustaining life. Others define life by function and ability. Living while hooked up to tubes and medicines is not how they would define "life," so it's about quality. So they live for that quality - the time they can enjoy with family and friends, doing things they love. Others live because they are afraid of what's on the other side.

For me, I think I live because, as I have been described several times now, I am a force of nature. I am a more diplomatic force of nature than I was 20 years ago, but still, I can be a sort of forceful tide, that is impelled towards my call, and pulls people along in my wake. I never thought much about my own life force until this summer. I like what Rachel Naomi Remen says in Kitchen Table Wisdom. She says that life is not fragile, but rather impermanent. At times during CPE, I thought that life was fragile, when I considered my own mortality, but I think that Remen is right. Our bodies try to live within their abilities; they are not fragile, but they can only withstand so much abuse from the world we have created.

So I live because my biology compels me to. As I get older, I continue to be in tune with my own physical processes. My ebbing fertility makes me want more children before it's too late. My shifting weight and strength makes me aware of the need to exercise and care for the temple my consciousness resides in. My spiritual awareness grows and accepts the known and unknown that lay before me.

I live because I have overcome great emotional and spiritual pain. I feel called to use those experiences to serve my greater community of fellow humans and the universe. We all have forks in the road, but I have never felt that the choice to not serve was an option. That fork was short and dark. Every step, every job, every choice, has been a step on the road to acknowledging the call to serve. Looking back, it's amazing to me that it took me so long to become aware of it. I don't believe in predestination, except in my most superstitious moments, but I do feel that I have been imbued with purpose, perhaps accidentally.

I don't know why I live, in the existential sense. I am not a theist, but I am religious. I sense that there is more to this life than we know and I have experienced the deep and unseen connections that bind us to each other and to the cosmos. As a humanist, I feel a responsibility to live in a certain way, and in a certain type of relationship to everything that my life touches.

I live because I am called to live; physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I hope that when it is time for my physical body to let go, that I will be ready to embrace whatever comes next.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Saying Goodbyes

Today was our last CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) group. We present our final service tomorrow and then we are off to new destinations. We had an amazing group of interns. I never doubted we would, but the reality, after 11 weeks together, is stunning.

I feel so blessed to have an interfaith group of ministerial colleagues to have as friends going forward. We may head in different directions, theologically and geographically, but we have sat in the presence of grief, joy, and God together.

I am filled with gratitude, loss, and excitement as we move forward in our lives and ministries. We are standing together, at the edge of the unknown, and we are ready to fly.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The feminist voice

I presented my final evaluation for CPE today. It was very affirming, and I feel gratitude for the experiences I have shared with my internship group this summer. I bid farewell to the staff on my floors and a few patients that have been long term in the hospital. I did my final paperwork. Tomorrow night I work my final on-call shift.

I cannot imagine what next week will be like without chaplaincy in my life. This is somewhat how I felt when my internship at the shelter was over in May, except that this has been all-consuming ministry. I am also excited to dive into my congregational internship in just three weeks, but it will be a very different experience than this. 

It is interesting to me how entering ministry has changed my discernment process. I foresee it being much longer and more deliberate than I had thought, and this growth and maturity is a wonderful thing.

In any event, one thing that I was surprised to find myself focusing on in my final evaluation was my voice as a woman. My group has 5 men and 2 women, and it has been shocking to discover things about myself in that experience - how I inadvertently defer to men - checking in, for one. I have worked on these observations over the last three months, and have been fascinated to be a participant of and observer of my experience.

One of my questions for feedback was about my direct style. I have been labeled "aggressive," and a "bitch" for being direct and clear in my communications. But this was not the perception of the men in my group. I didn't get much feedback from the woman today, but at mid-unit, there was a desire to see some of my softer side. (Some would assert that I don't have one ). My supervisor was delighted to find out that I am an 8 on the Ennegram, which healthily integrates to a 2, which has become obvious to me as I work to attain a balance of diplomacy and prophetic voice.

I am anxious to see how this plays out in a congregration. I think a strong prophetic voice is an asset in preaching and justice work; it might be perceived as challenging in a board meeting, but it remains to be seen. I'd be interested to hear about other women's experience with their ministerial presence and voice.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

End of Life Issues

I just found this article linked on Facebook by a friend of mine. It was in response to an article I had read earlier article that I got from Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.  Go read all 3. I'll wait.

This is really the most profound thing I have taken away from a summer of CPE. This issue of life, and quality of life is something that came up in my Loss and Grief pastoral care class, but it's at the heart of illness, and how we live, and most importantly, how we die.

After watching patients go through awful things, I went home and did an advance directive. I"m filing it with my doctor and putting a copy in my safe and on my fridge, should the EMTs ever come to my house. I implore you, go do the same. And think about, and talk about, what life and death mean to you with your friends and family.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Back to the Grind

My daddy (my mother calls her dad, daddy too) is back at the nursing home. He was discharged from the hospital today. The doctor said he remembered my name this morning! That is progress and makes me happy. I bet he will be less confused when back home too. He was worried about his roommate, Merv, who is blind.

I went back to work yesterday and it was good. It was hard to go to one of my units, because Monday, a long-time patient of mine died there. But I did it. I have a whole new bunch of patients there that I am coming to know and love.

Today we had a full day of patient visits and I got to see 9. We also had a workshop on gang violence. Whew.

Tomorrow I rest and practice my...

Sermon! That I am preaching at my home church on Sunday! I am excited and nervous. It means a lot to me to be asked to preach there, my home, my support, where my church family is. I did opening words as a worship associate last summer and knew that I was in the right place.

It is good to be home, I miss my daddy, and am grateful for all your prayers and good thoughts. I have felt lifted up by them and they have helped me to get through this week.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Home again

In a whirlwind of travel, intensive CPE, and family illness, I have been to PA and back to NY in 24 hours, while spending just as much, and possibly more  time in a hospital room then I would have in NY.

My father is medically stable. They are continuing to do tests. He had an EKG today, and will have a follow up CT scan tomorrow. He is terribly confused and has no recognition of anyone but me (and he doesn't remember my name), or even his distant past and childhood, which worries me.

I hated to leave, I hated to stay. I feel torn in two between my two homes. I was horribly homesick for both places in transit, both ways. I can't wait to go back, I dread going back.

The full-time chaplain, an Episcopalian priest, came and met with my dad and I, and I am much reassured. She promised me she would see him every day while he's there, and understood dementia and confusion and was patient and loving with him. He even oriented enough to ask her a Bible joke! (What 3 nuns are mentioned in the Bible?)

It was so hard to say goodbye to my dad. I told him how much I love him, and that he is a great dad. He got all teared up, which I have never seen him do. I didn't quite know what to make of it, but it was very moving.

He became agitated this afternoon and required a lot of redirection and supervision as he refused to wear his oxygen and kept trying to leave to "go home." They assigned him a 1:1 aide today but now he's sleeping and they just have the bed alarm on. Hopefully the Seroquel will keep him out for the night.

I now know what all that free floating anxiety I was feeling on Tuesday (yesterday?!) was about. My family has a history of being slightly psychic with each other (weird, and unbelievable and magical I know). But there you have it.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring? I know one thing is a run in the morning, a chance to see patients, and juggling phone calls with the hospital in PA. Being in the sandwich generation is no picnic (pun intended).

Walking in those shoes

I got a all at the end of the workday yesterday that my dad was having some sort of mini-stroke at his nursing home. I had them call the ambulance, and then called the hospital to give them my contact info, and set up some local people to come to the hospital and be with him.

He did indeed have a TIA  and is still pretty confused, and getting a bit agitated. For those that know his history, he already has brain damage from an aneurism, and has age-brain-damage-related dementia, and lives in a nursing home.

I talked to his doctor this morning who was encouraging, but I didn't see the improvement I was led to believe I would from talking to the doctor. Things are better, incrementally, than last night, but certainly not back to baseline.

As a chaplaincy intern, I did request a chaplain visit, something I've never done before. A volunteer chaplain came to visit and I learned a whole lot about what not to do ever again (if I ever did any of these things):

1. Do ask if you can stay and visit - don't just come in, get the name wrong, and then attempt to flee
2. Do ask about religious preference, don't tell me about yours, unless I ask
3. Do ask if the patient would like another visit
4. Do ask if the patient/family would like to pray (I fail to do this all the time, but sure would have been comforted by the offer this morning, even as a non-Christian).
5. Don't be intimidated by patients who are confused. They still like visitors and like to talk, even if they don't make sense to you.
6. Oh, and introduce yourself FIRST thing - don't make me guess who you are and what you want.

All that said, I'm glad she came, and hope she sends the full time chaplain up, as she promised. I'd really like someone to be able to sit with my dad, even for 10 minutes, after I can't be here.

The doctor said that if things stay stable, it would be fair for me to head home and monitor events from there. As I said, I'm not entirely encouraged by 'progress' from last night, but the next 5 hours should show a lot - 24 hours is supposed to show how things are going. I'm still waiting on results from his carotid artery ultrasound, and he'll have another CT scan tomorrow.

Thanks for all the prayers and good wishes on facebook. They mean everything. I miss my family like crazy, and owe a huge thank you to my daughter Emma, who packed my overnight bag and put everything I needed in it. She really is a mini-clone of me sometimes :). Love you girl.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

All About Me

I had an interesting (yet exhausting) day.

We had group consultation and self care, which is where all the interns get together and work in a specific process to work through difficult cases, interactions, role play, or just get to share something. I got angry at something someone said. I noted that I had a strong reaction and shared it (not a join, a difference, says the process), and let the rest of the interaction play out. I had to leave the room at the end. I was in tears, and couldn't bring myself to move to the next part of the group.

I spent some time in the chapel crying, and then called my husband, and questioned my whole calling, then I went to lunch, had an interesting phone call (more on that later), and then met with my supervisor after I visited my floors.

He said, quite astutely , "Do you feel like you're doing CPE?" 

Um, yep, I feel it.

He said, "Good, because you are really doing it."

I am discovering so many gender complications coming up this summer, working in a group of 5 men and 2 women. Finding a way to be angry and not feel guilty (or like a bitch) is hard as a woman (and for me specifically). I didn't have good role models for anger. However, my supervisor affirmed that I handled it appropriately, but allowed my own discomfort to "boomerang" and called it - I spent my afternoon feeling depressed and exhausted. My, he's a smart human being!

I did indeed spend my afternoon feeling depressed and exhausted, and he encouraged me to leave a little early and to do something nice for myself - to avoid even further boomerang activity feeling guilty and down about letting myself be depressed and exhausted all afternoon. Really, he is a smart guy.

I did handle my anger appropriately. We are encouraged to get out of our "person" system - or in lay terms, to not get caught up in our own emotions only when in an interaction - and to be in an "observer system" where we can have some transparency between what we're thinking and what we're feeling, and can both observe, note, and interact with awareness about how our own past experience is informing the current interaction. Fascinating, exhausting, and vital for ministry.

I'm pretty good at it, actually, but that doesn't make it easy all the time. As a matter of fact, it has a way of making me question my own authenticity, when I am feeling one way and noting it, and yet able to stay in a pastoral role (which is authentic, but it just feels weird afterwards).

In any event I realized that when I do the loving-kindness part of my meditation each day, I have never once started out with L-K for myself (?)! I find it difficult to do it even now that I'm aware of it. I have a decent self-image, yet I have a hard time even figuring out how I feel about this. I find it quite bizarre actually. And uncomfortable to send my own self L-K. But I have to. I see that.

So lots of good growth and such, but yeah, I'm exhausted.

My phone call that I mentioned earlier was good .It was unexpected - someone checking in with me to close a loop that made them uncomfortable. There was an attempt by that person to triangulate, which I was able to deflect, and it was all really positive. And I realize that it's all about me.

That person I got angry at? Not what they said, or how they said it. It was my past experience that created an authentic reaction to it. My ability to honor someone reaching out to me and also deflect some negative behaviors is about me too.

I'm growing, becoming, and well....seeking. Yes, I'm doing CPE.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Life experience

A large part of CPE is understanding and being open to how our personal life experience informs our interactions with patients. My supervisor asks us to think about Who Am I? Who is the Patient? Who are we together?

When I walk into a room, I bring not just my role, but my life with me, whether I share it or not. The patient's interaction with me is based on their experience with religion, spirituality, authority, illness, prayer, etc. And those two people create a whole new experience that will inform future interactions.

This is true outside of CPE too, of course. My interactions with people in my life which have included abuse, violence, alcoholism, love, support, etc. all play into my day to day life. CPE has pointed this out to me in a variety of ways. I have had stories from other chaplains move me to tears because they touched my own story in some way. I have met with patients and family, and have felt protective and even angry on their behalf - or at  them due to my own past.

An awareness of how our experiences moves inside of us at all times is vital. It doesn't have to define us any longer, but it certainly informs us. Recently, I had a family member that I spent about an hour with, and they drove me crazy. They were misinformed about a number of things that I am familiar with, they were sexist, uncouth, and immature. For some time, I warred inside myself with my desire to find some way to gracefully exit the room, but knew that the people in the room needed me. At one point, I was feeling pretty useless, but still holding the energy, holding as much love and peace as I could, and the person turned to me (they weren't sure they wanted me there initially), and said with great warmth, "It really does help to have you here."

Well, that's why I am doing this work. Because despite my own history and reactions to people, my intention is to be pastoral and loving - it felt like a real win to have been able to acknowledge my feelings in the moment, face head on my desire to leave, and to stick it out with intention and love, and to have it validated! How powerful.

In non-CPE life, I am having a lot of these same reactions to a variety of people, and I'm trying to hold that same intention. i keep reminding myself, that just as I don't get paid to put up with stuff in real life, I don't get paid for my internship either ;) (that's a joke!) Intentionality in life is a daily practice - it's easier sometimes in the specific atmosphere of chaplaincy work, but it's good training for the rest of life.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Sleepless in Strong

Wow, what a night. I find that on-call shifts are so intense when they are busy. I had 10 pages between 4:30pm and 8:30 a.m., only to sleep between 6 and 8a.m. By the time I left, I was totally drained. I had 4 traumas, including two violent incidents, one which was quite disturbing. I had a tragic fetal death - my first infant death, which I have been dreading. The baby was so tiny - 2 lbs - and perfectly formed. It broke my heart and I was grateful that the mother was sedated - at least there was a short delay in her grief. She woke up briefly and asked, "Where?" and I filled with sorrow for her.

The NICU and trauma staff are amazing. I have found such wonderful relationships with the medical staff. The social work staff is a bit more ambiguous at times. Especially in the emergency department, I often feel unwelcome, or at the very least, drastically misunderstood. We are often seen as walking with death, something I don't feel at all. Often my role is to simply hold the energy in a space - to provide presence and silent affirmation of the important work and emotions at play there.

I also had 3 deaths, at which I sat with families, prayed, and even cried with them. I had a family member agonizing over treatment of their sick spouse.

"What should I do?" was the question of the night, straight from raw grief. "What comes next?" "This sucks." "How do I go on?"

I don't have good answers for these questions. I know that grief is overwhelming, that it can only be dealt with a day, an hour, a minute at a time. Sometimes it threatens to drown you.

On-call shifts leave me feeling vulnerable and raw myself. No sleep plus giving every ounce of my spirit to room after room - 20 patients and families in 24 hours - leaves me filled with gratitude for my own health, my family, and my inner resources. It also leaves me depleted and too tired to figure out how to do more than weep sometimes. I am generally good at leaving it at the hospital, but I agonized a bit this morning before finally falling asleep at home, safe in my own bed.

Even before the night, we had a long morning of reflection and mid-unit evaluations. It got a bit heated at the end, which was difficult for me to witness. But I continue to feel blessed at having a great group of interns to work with. It is easy to be authentic with them.

I'm useless today - worked online for a bit, ate some cereal, and am going to veg out with some 24 episodes. Self care after all, comes in many forms!

Thursday, July 8, 2010


I haven't been posting much. Burning the candle at both ends, but I'm still here. I think of all the things I'd like to write, but my brain is on overload with CPE didactics, and all my patients that I see, plus my part-time job in the evenings, plus parenting. (Which is So Much Fun, because Jude is learning to READ! So exciting!)

Anyway, I've passed the halfway mark of CPE. It seems like I've been there forever, and also like no time at all has passed and I can't believe it will be over before I know it. In some ways, I wish I could continue on and do a full year residency now, but I'm also very much looking forward to my congregational internship.

I just can't say enough about how thoughtful and intentional the CPE program is at URMC Strong Hospital. I'm learning so much, being challenged by my supervisors and peers, and growing in many ways. I now have some patients I've been following for over a month and those connections are deep.

I am finding my passion again, after the exhaustion of the first year of seminary - my excitement and joy at serving. It's just that it's also taking up all my energy. I will be ready for a vacation before traveling to Chicago again in September!

The kids are surviving remarkably well, and actually have a better routine now then when I was in school. I hope to keep the momentum up in the fall!

Anyway, I'm brain dead, but maybe I can focus again over the weekend!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

On becoming

 I remember when I first went to visit a spiritual director as part of small group ministry that I was involved in two years ago, and I told her, "I have done so much growing's sometimes frustrating when I get glimpses of how much more I have to do." Chaplaincy training is another place where you face that realization just about every day.

Another conversation that ended up being very true was when the student chaplain at Meadville Lombard told my triad group (my triad met weekly for course work, and met with the chaplain monthly) that seminary was in a lot of ways a way of breaking us down into small pieces so we could put them all back together again - theologically, emotionally, sometimes even physically, due to the intense need for self care.

When I was a child, I was Catholic, and I had transcendent experiences of God. I had faith in a supernatural Father, and I prayed to Him, and felt His presence in my life. At some point though, existential questions of suffering in my life, and perhaps even a biology of atheism, took away that personal relationship with a Christian God (and it was always a relationship with God, not with Jesus, or even Mary, which is perhaps why it was so natural to become a Unitarian Universalist).

I continued to have transcendental experiences in my life - moments of becoming, of growing, of mystical connection with other people, with nature, with something more - and those experiences are what keep me an agnostic, that make me a person who is aware of the unknown, and of possibility, while still subscribing to Occam's Razor.  In a recent post about prayer, I explored some of my thoughts about prayer as a person of non-traditional faith, and I refound this quote that spoke to me. As a religious humanist, I am a cosmic theist, in that I believe in  the transcendent immanence of God, which some might call panentheism. However, I have not felt that personal transcendent experience of God (and I realize that is a loaded word) very often as an adult.

I remember being about 10, during the Cold War, and thinking about how infinitely stupid adults were, as a I lay awake, fearful of bombs falling on my house or my school. And I remember an image of physically tucking that thought away into the back of my 10 year old mind, and telling myself that I would never forget to realize that adults were stupid. That we complicate things unnecessarily for ourselves, which results in all sorts of negative consequences in our lives, our social networks, our world. More on this later.

This morning, when I was meditating, I felt God (again, that loaded word, especially for me, as an agnostic) as a presence. I believe in connections, in something greater than the sum our our living, aware parts. And that not only showed up for me this morning but has been with me, as a presence, in the room, all day. It's kind of frightening actually - I mean, I actually thought, perhaps I am having a mental breakdown of some sort ;).But, I am a levelheaded kind of gal, and I am pretty sure I know how this actual feeling of presence has come back into my life.

For some time now, I have been wrestling with prayer, my love of Catholic tradition from my childhood, and with how to make my daily spiritual practice more meaningful, which I have, through ritualistic meditation each day. But it hasn't been until the last 4 weeks of chaplaincy that I have prayed, really prayed with people. And the part where being as a child (as Jesus himself would remind us) comes in, is that it doesn't have to be complicated. I don't have to get caught up in the words God, or Jesus, or Christ, or heaven, or sin. My role as a chaplain is to be present with people, to help them be, to serve with humility. It doesn't really matter what I believe in that moment - it matters that I can connect with that person, and that we create something through our relationship in that moment. If I can let go of my baggage about semantics (and as a writer and editor for many years, many that know me well will know that's a difficult task), and just be in the moment of wonder and (God) and creation, then that has the potential to become transcendent.

This prayer that I have been engaged in and wrestled with, and felt awkward in and powerful in - that has changed my spiritual practice. Again:
"When I pray, the humanist in me is patient but nonplussed, asking who I think I am talking to, and I reply that I don't know, but I do it anyway, my breath casting words into the seemingly unanswering air. Perhaps it is only my need to make the universe personal and intimate. I know myself to be a personal and intimate being, and it seems not totally impossible that the powers which cast me with these qualities, which enables me to be both rational and poetic, may be the same as I, writ large." -- Frances E. West

Humanism is a based on reason and compassion - but that religious piece of humanism does not have to exclude God (or at least I take the liberty as a UU to say so).

And the question is so what? Why do I do this ministry? Now that I can catch my breath in week four, when I can think again about congregational work, community work, and chaplaincy, it becomes very clear that my moral authority as a minister is in not only becoming more authentically myself, but in journeying with others in their own journey of becoming. It's about right relation as a position of moral authority, and about radical hospitality. As a ministry, radical hospitality is breaking down that sin of disconnection that is the root of so much human pain and suffering. Ministry is about finding a theology that makes sense of that sin - not in the sense of predestination, or bargaining with some higher power, or even understanding it - but making sense of it and figuring out how to live our lives that we have the best we can.

One day, I dropped my son off at his Waldorf program and one of the church staff (where we meet) was being (in my mind) quite rude to a new mom who had parked in the wrong place. I was pretty ticked off about his behavior, and my son's teacher, Lynne, who is just a gentle saint of a woman, put her hand on my arm and gently said, "He's doing the best he can." In the moment, that answer didn't feel like enough, but now it does. Ministry is about helping people do the best they can, without judgment and with humility. And that includes me. Sometimes the best I can do doesn't feel like very much, but that's OK sometimes.