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.