Friday, December 30, 2011

Writer's Block, Suicide, and Grace

I would guess that I haven't journaled in my personal journal, or here in my blog for close to six weeks, which might be a record. There was a point of no return in the amount of stress any one person can tolerate, and I hit the wall, hard.

As I've tried to write, everything seems trite, and doesn't seem to do justice to the reality of everyday life - the good, the bad, and the ugly. I write a sentence, and delete it. I write a paragraph, and delete it. Writing is my way of processing the world and of making sense of experience. I have been a writer pretty much my whole life. I am a visual learner, but a verbal processor. The inability to write has been suffocating in ways. I can't write sermons, or papers. I can't write emails or journal. I can barely read the texts I need to read for upcoming classes, and put one whole class on hold.

When I am able to get my head above the water of writer's block for short periods and pound out a few sentences, or make a theological connection in my reading, I start to feel more like myself. I've discovered that the act of trying is as important as doing, even when it's frustrating.

My family has been through a lot this year, but November trumped everything that has come before. I have had my ability to be compassionate and kind and patient be stretched to the absolutely maximum - and at the same time, have been shown those qualities in spades by my beloved community - church, homeschoolers, friends, colleagues.

I thought that losing our home last summer was bad. I thought that the things came after piled on traumas that were hard - although there were gifts of learning and grace that came with each hard time. But right before Thanksgiving, we almost lost our oldest daughter to a suicide attempt. Now that, my friends is bad. Definitely the worst thing that I can imagine. Hard for us, but undeniably harder for her, to be in that space of despair and pain. To watch my child go through the suffering of depression and the medical intervention necessary for her recovery just about broke my heart. It left us all fragile, and even more appreciative of the gifts that we each have.

Why do I speak of such things? Because I must. Because families lose children and teens to suicide at an alarming rate, and it is frightening to speak of it. If you say it out loud, it must be true - and that's terrifying. I am now that mom - the mom whose daughter tried to take her life, and almost succeeded. I am now the mom who is grieving the loss of who she thought her daughter was, and celebrating her courage in fighting to come back from this. And I speak of it, because I've been through suicide attempts before, by my ex-husband, and it's a lonely time - one that frightens other people, and that society lays a film of shame over. This time, I wasn't alone, and I am not ashamed.

My daughter has nothing to be ashamed of. Nobody does. Depression is insidious, and awful and sometimes deadly. It's hard to treat, and not something your friends want to talk about, and it sucks the life out of you and everyone around you when it's deep. She now knows, and has the notes and cards and emails to prove it, that she is valued and loved and celebrated - things that depression made her forget, or wouldn't let her hear in the moment. She has a wall of affirmation above her bed. It makes me smile.

I have also learned that a life of service may be draining at times, but more importantly, it can also be sustaining. It is those moments when I watch a small ministry group have a profound theological experience, or feel the power of words flowing through me in the pulpit, or sitting and listening to a friend or congregant in need of love, not words...those are the moments of grace that fill me up so that I can work on being my best self in difficult situations.

I am a do-er. And I have not been do-ing much the last month - not that you would notice. But I have been. I've been quietly filling myself back up with meals dropped off, with hugs, with small gifts, with listening ears, with vegging out to Netflix, to reading mind candy fiction, to sleeping late and going to bed early. I've been snuggling with my kids, sitting by the fireplace, keeping the house peaceful and clean. I've been watching my kids grow in explosive and exciting and shocking ways, as they become more and more themselves with each day that passes. I've been locking eyes with my husband, feeling a love that sustains both of us and knowing that we're not alone, ever.

So thank you. Thank you to my classmates who are practicing serious radical hospitality this January in Chicago, in so many ways. Thank you to my friends who send me snail mail and email notes of love and encouragement. Thank you to the Lilac Children's Garden and RAHA communities who have brought us meals and provided child care for days on end. Thank you to the family who has surrounded us with their presence and love. Thank you to May Memorial, for trusting me and teaching me how to become a minister. Thank you to First Unitarian of Rochester, whose pastoral care team sat with us for hours, who drove me home to shower, who brought me food and Christmas ornaments. Thank you to the doctors and nurses and techs and aides and chaplaincy staff at Strong Hospital. There is so much gratitude that I hold, and it's this being in community that allows me the space to care for myself and my family. Thank you to all those friends and parents and teachers who love my daughter and have called her and offered support and coffee and friendship. You help to sustain us all.

Yes, it's hard to be transparent about the hard things in life. But it's harder to go around pretending that these things don't happen in life. To me, to you, to the grocer, to great minds and singers and writers and cab drivers. If we hide the painful things, we cannot begin to heal. I know this - I've known it my whole life. But if someone out there is  just learning it, I hope they know that there is a world of love and support just outside their door.

So, I know that I could just delete this again. That it doesn't express the depth of pain and love and grace in life. But writing is what I've got. My voice is what I've got. All my gifts and imperfections are what I've got. So here I am, back at it. And it feels like healing.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving Approacheth

Thanksgiving is upon us! I am thankful for a lighter schedule this week, so I can catch up on some assignments and reading that I have fallen behind on. I am super thankful for my husband, who seems to be everywhere all at once, supporting me, our kids, our home. He's working, he's cooking, he's parenting, he's driving...I don't know how I would manage without him. I love him more every day and it makes me wake up happy every morning to wake up next to him.

I'm grateful for my four children. This is the season of birthdays and reflecting on growth each year. Soren just turned 13. Jude was 7, Lucy and I have birthdays the week of Christmas, and my husband at the end of January.

I'm grateful that this is the first year in my life that I'll have to make a resolution to exercise. My age is finally catch up with me and I can't just float along on the heels of my active younger days!

I'm thankful that we didn't lose any humans or pets in the fire. Everyday, I am struck that life could be so much more tragic than it was last summer. We are really very lucky.

I'm thankful for my church, for my calling, for my teaching congregation. I'm grateful for Wellspring and all my small ministry groups. I'm thankful for thoughtful and amazing colleagues and classmates. I'm grateful for friends who drag me out of my house and make me eat Indian food with them, and spend hours laughing and catching up.

I'm thankful for debit cards and electricity and hot water and furnaces and warm boots and sleds and big hills and ice skates and ponds. I'm thankful for swimming pools and Corona with lime and the hot, hot sun. I'm thankful for my Golden Retriever and flannel sheets and Nine West shoes. I'm grateful for morning snuggles with Lucy and allergy medicine and Advil.

That's just the beginning, but it's a start. It's a chilly day here in NY, but my family is around me, I've got a cheerful fire in the fireplace, snuggling dogs on my feet, and schoolwork plugging along. I've got a wedding to perform this evening and a lovely turkey dinner to look forward to on Thursday.

Thanks to everyone who has been a part of the creation of me.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A week of "firsts"

Saturday the 19th is the first anniversary of my father's death. I miss him. My children miss him. It is hard to believe it has been a year. I still haven't gone through his belongings, except for his wallet and papers.

Sunday the 20th is my daughter's 13th birthday. Not my first teenager, but Soren's first year as one. She's changing so quickly - emotionally, physically, spiritually, intellectually. It feels like she will be an adult in the blink of an eye. She was my "baby" for six years. And now she's this beautiful young woman, who is going to be taller than her older sister (much to Emma's dismay), in a short time.

Time is short. It goes so quickly. Even in the midst of anxiety, stress, busy-ness with schoolwork (theirs and mine) and the approaching holidays, I find time every day just to reflect on each person in my family and feel gratitude for having them in my life.

The News

When I read the news this morning, it depressed me. The New York Times is full of things that are negative, as is the Rochester D&C and the Syracuse Post. The Centre Daily Times is a horror show of depressing and aggravating news.

The Penn State scandal is all over the national news, and it seems as if it will continue to worsen. I have been struggling with the firing of Joe Paterno, not because I don't support accountability for his actions, but because of my own grief. He is the same age as my father, and came of age in a time when sexual abuse scandals were often disavowed or swept under the rug, or handled outside of the legal arena. Certainly, Paterno is a part of a wide web of cronyism and deceit. However, the world is not black and white. It actually is relativistic in ways, and the reality of Paterno's affect on the sports world, Penn State, and the State College community, has a wide range of good and bad.

There is no question that he should have done more - he should have - and he is recognizing that now in his statements to the press. It's too little, too late. His complicity does not however, negate the good he has done for the community. And that's where I feel grief for the community and university, whose people have conflicted feelings. Those feelings don't mean that Paterno shouldn't be held accountable - they are just normal feelings of loss and betrayal.

 I think about how my own father might have reacted in a similar situation, and my guess is, he would have done what Paterno did - for a lot of reasons, and not because he supported sexual abuse of anyone. Their generation had a different approach to abuse than we do today. Again, I am not in any way excusing Paterno's, or anyone else involved for their moral culpability, but this is one of those "both...and" situations, where a person had made a horrible decision not to act against evil, and they have done a lot of good in their life. At the sunset of his life, Paterno has lost everything - deservedly so.

The victims of these crimes have lost much, much more, and will suffer for many more years. There is nothing, no legal redress, that will eliminate the damage that has been done to them, and for that I grieve as well, much more than for Paterno's losses, which he brought on himself. These victims were innocent children, already at risk, who weren't protected by adults who were supposed to be upholding personal and ethical standards of conduct for themselves, the university, and The Second Mile.

What I think is that there is most often a right way to act, but that our feelings just are. And that's hard ground to cross when people are feeling outrage, betrayal, anger and disgust - as well as loss, grief, and horror. It's like arguments between fundamentalist religious groups - it's almost impossible to reach across that chasm of feeling that your feelings/beliefs are the right ones. But in the case of all those involved in this terrible tragedy, the feelings span a wide range of emotion and experience. The comments in the news articles often reflect these entrenched feelings. I am a pragmatist - I know that people are not always able to validate others' feelings, especially when their own feelings are intense, but the idealist in me always hopes that people will try to see outside of their own experience and walk in another's shoes.

Mostly, I would hope that people would keep the victims in the forefront of their prayers and not be distracted by the machinations of the institutions to keep sweeping that issue out of the way.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I should really be reading and writing and preparing some stuff for school and work, but I have been in a media blackout due to being so busy, and I'm trying to catch up on organizing my files and bookmarks today. They have gotten wildly out of control in 2.5 years of graduate school. Tomorrow I'll have to tackle my reading and writing.

I have obviously been immersed in the story about Penn State's coverup of alleged sexual abuse by former assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky. It has me thinking about oppression, about the 99%, about disenfranchised and already-vulnerable children who are taken advantage of by the people who are supposed to be helping them. The story has gone national quickly, and it's spawned some great reminders about abuse-proofing (to some extent) our kids. My oldest daughter and I have been discussing the case - the court documents are graphic and disturbing. The victims' stories are eerily similar.

One has to wonder how so many people, who had to have known or seen the alleged abuse by the perpetrator, could have allowed it to go on. Obviously, that's a rhetorical question, since I know the answer - it has to do with power, and fear.  It's the same reason there was such a huge clergy scandal - power differential, fear of retribution or loss of status, and shame.

Talk to your kids, remind them what to look for, and that they can talk to you about anything. If you see something yourself, confront it. Report it.

In other things that I'm concerned about, go Occupy something. Obama told us when we elected him that he wanted us to TELL him how to do his job. Well, go do it.

Penn State and Happy Valley

I grew up in State College, aka Happy Valley, home to Pennsylvania State University. Most of my life has been spent there, in that beautiful, mountainous region, living a life of Town and Gown, student and Townie, learning how to navigate the chaos of football weekends, when Penn State fans come roaring into town.

I grew up in the heyday of Penn State football -when Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky brought the football team to two National Championships in the 1980s. I lived my life in the shadow of these awesome figures. I rode the school bus and attended school with the children of these men - Paterno, Sandusky, Curley. I remember the controversies around hiring Spanier in the mid-90s.

My entire life has been formed in some measure by Penn State, and by football. My high school team was the Little Lions, of course. The boys were expected to dress in dress pants, shirt and tie for away games. We always knew we'd be seeing some team off on the bus when we saw the boys show up, spiffy and clean. We lived in the shadow of the expectation of Joe Paterno.

I remember the days when JoePa would not tolerate any kind of misbehavior (at least any that made the Centre Daily Times) from his football players. They also wore dress slacks and ties, and at least in public, put on a show of high standards of conduct. My generation grew up exceedingly proud to be Penn State, to know the football royal families. I lived up the street from the high school football coach - and I bet his life was even more affected by the omnipresent Penn State. In those days, we packed the high school football stadium. Maybe they still do.

As an adult, I learned to grocery shop on Saturdays during the football game, and didn't miss a play, as it was broadcast in Weis Market, and then Wegman's when they came to town. I learned to drive, knowing that University Park and Park Ave. became one way streams on football Saturdays, and it was best to avoid the area altogether. I enjoyed the raucous energy of Saturdays after a win - the packed bars - Zeno's, the Phyrst, the Shandygaff - filled with young people painted blue and white. Because God must be a Penn State fan, right? Else why would the sky be blue and white?

Even after eight years away from home, I still read the Centre Daily Times every day, and check the football scores. After all, I worked there too, first as an obit writer, and then as an editor of the Weekender. The sports guys were untouchable - they had so much to do, so much to cover. Penn State football covered the front page - even during off-season, to the exclusion of much I thought might be more important. But I didn't push too hard. Football made the world go around in my life there. It brought in the fans, the money, the traffic, the grants for better roads. It brought in students and families and kept the bars hopping.

I remember the roar of the stadium crowds when Paterno beat Bear Bryant's win record I could hear it from 3 miles way in my Lemont driveway. The ground was actually vibrating with the noise and the hundred thousand feet stomping on the bleacher treads. I actually wept that day, in my driveway, on a warm, fall day, much like today.

So you might have an inkling as to how, even though I know that these men charged are innocent until proven guilty, reading the alleged cover-ups, the sickening abuse that Sandusky is accused of, the pointing fingers of Spanier and the administration toward Joe Paterno to take the heat off their own culpability (not that Paterno doesn't have his own in this mess), I feel physically sick.

I am horrified that these idols of my youth, who represented moral conduct, ethics, and good sportsmanship that informed my entire public school and college experience at State High and Penn State, could have such obvious clay feet. I can't imagine how Paterno, as a father of his boys, could know anything and not report it to the police. I can't imagine how Curley and Schultz can live with themselves. and Spanier, well, he should be ashamed for whole-heartedly supporting Curley and Schultz, and for canceling Paterno's press conference today. He should not be allowed to resign, as Curley did - he should be fired, for his own role in covering this up, and for trying to divert attention from himself onto Paterno, an 84 year old man, born the same year as my dad, who probably wonders how his whole world got turned up side down after a lifetime of being the King of Football.

My heart goes out to my former classmates, and I grieve for the loss of their innocence, if they still retained it. It is awful that their lives should be overshadowed by the sins of their fathers. It is heartbreaking that my peers and I have our youthful hopes and memories of great sportsmanship and high standards of conduct, be betrayed in this way.

I will always love Penn State, but it will require a good housecleaning before I begin to trust it again. I send prayers out to the families of the victims, and of those families victimized by their husbands and fathers by lies and sexual abuse. May you find solace in your faith, your heart, your spirt, however you may.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Fall is here. Every time I go outside, I can smell wood smoke - wood stoves are common in upstate NY. I have been so busy trying to get through the last three months, that except for fleeting, intense moments of grief, I haven't faced the loss of our home (or even less so, my wrecked car) in any meaningful, helpful way. But this smell of fall makes me hurt somewhere deep inside, in the same way I hurt for my children when they express their feelings of loss so much more articulately than I have so far. My husband has been at our house, cleaning it out In preparation for putting it on the market, and it is horrible for him. I don't honestly know how he does it. I have only been there two or three times since the fire and I could hardly stand it. Now is the time of year when Tom would be hauling wood from a friend's orchard, splitting it, firing up the chainsaw. The kids would be hauling the split wood in wheelbarrows to one of three areas, and we would be moving the old rocker glider into the laundry room corner as a study space in front of the fire. Emma and I spent last year trying to be the first person to claim this spot each day, piling our books, snacks, and matching slippers next to it, and snuggling up with our laptop and a warm blanket. Whomever lost would sit on the hassock, hunched over their work, but still happy to soak up the warmth and companionship. We talked a lot of philosophy in front of that stove last year. We never used our clothes dryer, because my husband strung line throughout the room and the stove dried everything faster than electric with the added benefit of the damp clothes and towels adding moisture to the dry air of winter. The wood stove was central in our lives. It was a symbol of less reliance on technology, kept us mindful of the work that goes into staying warm, kept us closer physically in the cold weather, provided exercise for everyone, and reduced our heating payments to nothing. It was time consuming, messy, sometimes inconvenient. But the choice to heat with wood, to live in the country, to create and maintain a huge vegetable garden, to can apples and pears from our trees, to dry our clothes with the sun and the wood stove - these are choices that are taken away from us. Yes, I miss my bed. I miss seeing the deer in our field each morning. I miss walking my dog and practicing tonglen as I consider each neighbor's house I walk by. My children's losses break my heart. They miss their swing set that Tom built by hand. They miss picking apples and getting fresh eggs from our two chickens each day(not so much cleaning out the coop!).t. They miss our next door neighbors Mark and Rose(me too). There is no closure. No way to fix this loss, for any of us. We are transported to a new life where you turn on the heat and there is no work to it. To a life where it is against association rules to hang clothes out. To a life where I buy eggs at a Wegman's where I can't find the peanut butter aisle. Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful we are alive, and for insurance and for the net of love and community that has held us throughout. But the smell of fall - it makes me homesick in a way I haven't been ready to face just yet. It feels lime a long time until we will "be home" again.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Dreams of the Dead

My father died right before Thanksgiving last year. I have been dreaming of him regularly since then. I sometimes wonder (not a theological question) if his presence beyond the physical realm is more powerful now than when he was fettered by his dementia.

The other night I had a vivid dream that I was in the hospital giving birth and it was footling breech. Alan Alda was my doctor (the older incarnation of Alan; he wasn't in uniform a la M*A*S*H!). Anyway, all these people from my family were there outside my room, sitting around eating cookies and drinking coffee. There were living members (like my mom and sister), and departed, like my dad and my two brothers, Craig and Randy. My uncles Barry and Wayne were there too. It was a veritable Spahr family reunion of men.

I specifically remember that in the dream, Randy got up and helped me into a more comfortable chair. And also, that my husband was already talking about having another baby, which I think might have made me dreamily murderous in the moment.

I've had so many intense and easily remembered dreams since the fire in June. Many of them include my dad. It's nice to feel that he's close, even if it's only in a dream state.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


I haven't blogged much lately. It got instantly crazy on Labor Day, with internship, work, and classes. I have been reading blogs though, and lots of books and writing a lot and trying to balance all of that with family time, which only is successful because my husband is amazing.

My 7 year old, Jude and I had an interesting discussion about why he thinks God is male. I went to pick him up at class last week and from the top of the slide, he said, "Leave me in peace. I am God! And I'm trying to figure out how to execute those people over there." I remarked that he must be an Old Testament kind of God. But I guess he's just trying to use play to reclaim some of the powerless he feels since losing our house. That's the theme for him lately - powerlessness. He mostly exhibits his grabs for power at bedtime, which he refuses to acknowledge exists. A child's cosmology can be fascinating and a microcosm of our own adult need to make sense of the world.

I have been gripped by a fascination with the cultural/sociological aspects of polity, theology, individualism, and creativity. I'm hoping to turn it into a sermon for the Thanksgiving service at MMUUS, which is intergenerational. I have been mulling over a Sharon Welch essay, Return to Laughter, I read for my Leadership Studies class. I am boring everyone I know by talking about it constantly, and using it to more deeply explore the issues above. This seems fair to me, as my 15 year old is doing the same thing to me regarding her honors physics class and Newton's Universal Law of Gravity. I told her that I don't really care much about it, as long as it continues to function and I don't go flying off the face of the earth.

I'm facilitating four small groups this year, which is one of the things I love about ministry. I'm gearing up to get back into action on the lay pastoral care team at First Unitarian, and put in my first fall shift on the Connect & Breathe post-abortion talk line.

Our move back to Rochester has been good for me in the sense that it theoretically gives me more time and less of a commute most days (except when I drive to Syracuse) but it also means that the kids ask to do more stuff. I'm really enjoying watching them grow and change and evolve, despite some of the challenges.

Well, the hordes are awake and talking at me, so it's time to start the day now that I'm caffeinated. I'm going to try to get back here more regularly. I have recently found, through doing a ton of weddings, that people actually look me up and read my newsletter articles and blog posts to see if my theology and style are a good fit for them. Fascinating stuff - I've joined some UU Facebook groups on social media, evangelizing, etc. so this is another great interest of mine.

OK, enough or I'll be off on that next!

Friday, August 19, 2011

These last sweet days of summer

They are winding down and each day is bittersweet. Today is a perfect example. 83F, sunny and clear. But what to do? We have an appointment at 2pm, smack dab in the middle of the day. It seems like such an effort to get out and do something, if only to be interrupted by the call of obligation.

We met a couple of neighbors out walking their dogs yesterday. They were friendly, but it made me realize that I feel like this rental house is just a bigger, nicer, extended hotel stay. I know we won't be in this neighborhood through the winter. We won't spend another summer here. We won't see what flowers appear in the spring, or see the whole flow of a year pass us by. It is difficult to remain in the present moment here; to commit to even liking it, let alone loving it.

In chaplaincy, I learned to try to stay in the present moment with people. Not to obsess about the future - to allow a contextual discussion of what brought people to where they were, and then to focus on how are things now, how are you feeling in the here and now.

This is a difficult practice, but my feeble attempts at maintaining it seem to be the best coping skill I own for dealing with insurance companies, car purchases, rental houses, selling our home, preparing for the MFC and for my last year of seminary.

Adding 4 children to the mix, who are in their last days of summer vacation, who don't have their "stuff" and toys and books and knick knacks; who complain about the cereal I forgot to buy at the store, and yet who snuggle on my lap and practice reading while I peruse - they are both hugely present...and hugely distracting. If my priority is to be present in thinking about closing words for the board retreat, or in crafting a grocery list that will dispel the complaints about the larder, but their present priority is the complaint itself, or that they can't reach the toilet paper, or that they want to show me the unicorn that they have drawn so beautifully... our "being in the present" modalities are sure to clash. What would Buddha say?

Ahh, the spiritual and theological conundrums of the student/working mother. The very crux of combining *anything* with parenting any age child, let alone a range of ages, is that being in the moment is like the worst ADHD experience ever sometimes, and sometimes all you can do is give yourself over to it, and laugh. There is that an intense moment of joy in giving up any pretension of being in my own moment.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I Breathe in Peace

I went to see my massage therapist today. I am very particular about massage therapists. There is a sacred trust about allowing someone to work intimately with one's body. She starts her sessions off with a short intention meditation, which I find helpful to use throughout the session.

When I do my walking meditation, my transition points mantra is "When I breathe in, I breathe in peace; when I breathe out, I breathe out love." This is an intention for myself and for what I give back to the universe. Today, during my massage I used "I breathe in trust, I breathe out fear."

I was hesitant about breathing fear out into the universe, but the massage room seems a rather safe and purposeful place to do such a thing. It requires a great deal of trust for me to relax my limbs into another's hands. To breathe into pain and pleasure, to have the courage to ask for what I need, and to communicate clearly about where I need the most work done.

I think this is good practice for the rest of life. My minister asked me what I most need, as I attempt to enter into my third and final year of seminary and internship. She warned me about maintaining my boundaries and seeking support from the appropriate venues. I have already thought about that a lot and am grateful that the major difficulties of the last year have occurred over my summer break. It has allowed my internship congregation to be concerned about me, but sheltered them from too much of a desire and chance of caring for me. Congregations are caring places, and they want to take care of people. But in a ministerial role, it is our job to care for them, and to seek our support, within reason, from outside resources - colleagues, friends, family, therapists, etc.

I have a lot of anxiety about being away from my children, and they from me. But now that we are living close to my husband's work, he will always be a short drive away. I am thinking of ways I can have longer days, make better use of my time in Rochester doing pastoral care and volunteering for Connect & Breathe, and am anxious to look over my curriculum for the year and what sorts of projects I will be doing.

Getting back into the work of ministry will be good - it will balance the stressors of day to day life - and I *am* being well taken care of, which allows me to provide the kind of ministry a congregation should expect from its intern. I am excited to perform a wedding this weekend and one in October. I look forward to getting back into the workings of the church, the meetings, the small groups, the worship services. I have missed those things as I've dealt with the minutae of crisis.

Besides, who doesn't know that being a stay-at-home-mom is the hardest job of all?! It will be a break to do other work :)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A step at a time

There is much left to do in this day - trips to Target for bedding and pet supplies, calling doctors, dealing with insurance, thinking about school and internship starting in the fall...but there have been moments of mindfulness. I am enjoying the view out the large dining room windows, of the huge patch of coneflowers with happy bees buzzing among them. The dogs are running from window to window in each room, watching a parade of dog walkers outside, who are caring for their pets after a day of work. There was a quick game of pool in the basement (yes, we have a pool table!), and a stroll to our new mailbox with Lucy. there was a long morning walk with Jakob - my first walking meditation in weeks and weeks. It was heavenly!

We now have bookshelves and dressers. Clothes are being washed and tucked away. The kitchen is looking better all the time. The children are enjoying playing in the living room and the enormous back yard. It will be fun to have a trampoline and bikes again soon!

I have many tasks ahead of me, but there are friends who are also struggling, and doing it with grace and love. I have been working hard on encouraging quiet voices, taking turns, caring for each other and ourselves, and turning this house into a physical and emotional safe haven. It is difficult work - we are anxious and overtired and in pain. But I know it will be worth it - for each individual, for our family, for our life's work that must soon resume.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Summer Camp from Hell

At least that's what my 12-year-old says this summer is ;). But we're in my home town, and usually I'm itching to get home, except this time, I don't have a home, so there is this free feeling of just enjoying the time here, and not rushing to do everything, because there is no rush, because there is no home to go back to (although I do miss my husband something fierce).

There is a huge Arts Festival here every year and as a teen, it was the week of freedom. It was a time to ride my bike around, have extended curfews, see lots of friends, hang out on The Wall, eat junk food, walk barefoot in the rain, and enjoy all the benefits and privileges of adolescence. I have set my own teenager free this summer, but oddly enough, she is staying close.

Trauma has made us realize the importance of each other. Of the thin thread of life that holds us together as a family and the strong love that we have for each other. Normally my kids would want to be off visiting friends and running around, and learning to take the bus, and walking miles and miles in their flip flops, but this summer, they are comfortingly nearby.

One of the reasons I came to Arts Fest this year is that I lost some things in the fire that I bought from artists over the years. Some of those artists aren't here this year, and I no longer have their business cards, which is sad. But one thing I wanted to replace was my photograph of two Yemeni girls that I bought a few years ago.

So I wanted to send a shout out to Jim Spillane, who takes these photos. Go see his booth. I also took a card from Marius Moore. I told him I want one of his photos when I have my own office when I'm a minister. He was a super cool guy, and even knew about Unitarian Universalism.

I've also been drooling over this woman's jewelry for years and found that she actually carries small bracelets, which are hard for me to find. The lotus flower means enlightenment - and this woman's jewelry is what was the inspiration for the tattoo I designed that I have yet to have done; a lotus mandala with a contemporary UU chalice in the center.

The thing I really wanted to replace was my beautiful wrap that I bought two years ago, but alas, the woman who makes them doesn't seem to be here this year. I did see some beautiful scarves/stoles that I may purchase tomorrow though, since I lost all of those too.

But really the best part of all this is just meandering through town, eating at Irving's Bagels, seeing the sights, visiting with friends and family, and having my children with me and moving at their pace. It's good to move at a child's pace - sometimes frenetic, sometimes slow and laborious. The basics become vitally important - food, rest, hugs, and being in touch with each other's emotions.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Ups and Downs

A friend of mine said that recovering from a fire/flood is like being pecked to death by ducks. I found it an apt metaphor!

I got back to work today for the first time since the fire really. The drive made me very anxious. The further I got from the kids, the worse it got. But It felt SO good once I got to church. I met with a couple who I am marrying on 8/6. It was an awesome meeting - they were so incredible and we had such a great rapport. It is going to be a beautiful ceremony, filled with happy tears and excitement about NY allowing gay marriage. I am fist-pumping psyched.

On the way home, I stopped in Lyons to get some prescriptions from our regular pharmacy and had to stop at the house to grab a stroller from the garage. Oh, the heartbreak. I was just devastated by my peek in the downstairs. I grabbed a box of Emma's baby paraphenelia, because I didn't want it to get thrown out by mistake. There is a huge dumpster full of stuff in front of the garage. My garden is tooling along with just nature's rain to water it - there were healthy snow peas growing, and lettuce, and raspberries, and pumpkins flowering...but I couldn't bear to pick any of it. I just started crying. All the kids' swings and bikes and trampoline and yard toys - it just broke my heart to see everything so forlorn. I am so, so homesick for our sanctuary from the world.

As I was driving, I felt so unable to trust the world around me. I have always been a good defensive driver, but find myself more suspicious than ever of large semis and fast drivers in sports cars. I fear for the motorcyclists in a brand new way, especially after the number of traumas I saw in the ED during CPE last summer.

I feel better to be back in the hotel, oddly enough. We have a lease being worked up, but found out today that the move in date has been pushed back another four days, and there is some confusion about the cable/phone/internet account at the house. I told the placement rep that her motto should be "We protect you from the crazy!" Seriously, I love her.

My 12 year old is feeling somewhat better a week post-op. She's off the narcotics today and says she's ready to boogie to our hometown tomorrow for the big Arts Festival. Me too!

I bought a new purse yesterday that I love. I replaced my fave pair of boots today. It's the little things actually. The convenience items - my calendula cream, my armband for jogging with my iPod, my junky headphones I kept in my nightstand drawer. My nightstand! Silly, but yes, like being pecked to death by ducks. I had a moment today where I didn't even want to move into the rental - it felt like giving up on our dream of space and chickens and old houses and rural life.

But we also found out today that the house is riddled with lead paint and asbestos. So any cleanup is going to be that much more expensive and harder.

I want to run away to the DE seashore. i want to walk on the boardwalk and smell the salt air. I want to drive to Assateague and see the wild ponies. I want to take Jude to Frontier Town in Ocean City, MD. I want to body surf in the brutal waves and let nature have her way with me a bit more. I want to be back in the womb of man - the sea. Maybe I can make it happen before fall. It would be so restorative.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Snapping back

I've been feeling a bit otherwordly since the fire; not myself. Not focused or able to figure out what next.

Then on Sunday, my 12 year old fell out of a tree and broke her arm, requiring surgery and a 2-3 day hospital stay. Two nights of NO sleep, followed by 2 nights of solid sleep seem to have snapped me back into my body finally.

There's something sad and funny about a child who cannot open jello by herself. Vicodin makes her have a mental functioning delay of about 10 seconds too. Poor chook. She has been in so much pain; it's a relief to have her be even a little silly.

My youngest two are feeling the trauma of being displaced from our home. They are desperately homesick, and tired of sleeping on a pull out couch in the living room of our hotel suite. Lucy cried herself to sleep tonight, missing her bed :(.

I am looking at two rental houses tomorrow, and am hopeful that one of them will be a match. There's a third I am waiting to schedule that is a block from our home church, so that would be wonderful too!

I seem to be unable to think about seminary or church much at all, though I have sudden spurts of inspiration and functionality. So I take the kids to the hotel pool a lot and read junk fiction. I think I'm due.

I am eternally grateful for the monetary donations that have allowed my husband to be off work so much, to deal with the insurance and watch our other kids while our 12 year old was in the hospital. I am grateful for friends who watch my kids, who bring me food, who brought me toothpaste and a sweater in the ER. I am grateful for the calls, emails, prayers. I cannot even express it all. You all know who you are.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Two weeks

It's been two weeks since our house caught on fire. I don't think I have ever been so tired, for so long, in my life. I just can't seem to get a decent night's sleep, either because of children climbing into bed with my husband and I, or waking every hour, or the temperature, or just insomnia.

Yesterday was a rough day. We were all irritable and tired. But Lucy has taken a nap the last two days and seems to be in a better mood, so today was much better. The mood of the youngest seems to set the tone for the day round these parts. We spent a long time at the pool yesterday, and today we went for a while. Jude had his semi-annual allergy appointment and had his highest ever scores for breathing. That means that his medication  regimen is working - we tweaked it in early June when the cottonwood was flying and he wasn't sleeping. We're adding Zantac back in, as he's been complaining of heartburn. Who could blame him, really?

I postponed my July intensives at Meadville Lombard until January. It will make for a crazier fall semester, but my family needs me here this summer. I'm having a lot of sorrow around being away from my home and yard during the summer months. I was in CPE last summer, so I had a lot of plans for lounging around, reading, and gardening. The kids miss the swing set, sandbox, bikes and trampoline.

I printed out my UU History and Polity readings and am going to start those, as well as my MFC competencies when I can find time. It's hard to find quiet time in the hotel suite.

I want to give a shout-out to ESL Savings and Loan, my bank. The teller at the drive-thru WALKED two packs of quarters out to my car because I had a sleeping child in my car and they are too heavy for the pneumatic tube. I couldn't believe it! They always provide excellent customer service, but this is beyond the pale!

Tomorrow, my MIL and my niece and her two kids are coming over to swim. I hope the weather is warmer than it's predicting. This weekend we're headed to Keuka Lake for the holiday weekend, and then the following week, home to PA for Arts Festival. I can't wait. We're taking the dogs with us this weekend too, which will be wonderful. I miss our cat and bunny too...

No progress on a rental house, though I'm now helping to search for options. We've got to get a yard!

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Trying to normalize life as much as possible while displaced is daunting. But one small thing I'm grateful for is Google Sync. I was able to restore all my favorite places, Chrome settings, etc. in one fell swoop! I finally broke down and ordered restore disks from, as the slow wireless connection at the hotel doesn't allow for downloading 54 1.3G files. And since I don't have a cable modem here, I temporarily made my cell phone a hot spot - and it's pretty darn fast! Technology I am grateful for :).

This morning, the kids and I went to church. It is the one place that still feels like home. Sitting in the back of the sanctuary, listening to Poetry Sunday; meeting outside under the Standing on the Side of Love sign, showing our support for gay marriage. It was fabulous. Hugs by friends, sympathy and soul food. I miss my internship church work, but it is good to have the time to reconnect with my home church.

Then I went out and bought pillows and a new down comforter. I hate down pillows, which is what they have at the hotel, and with my neck problems, it will be lovely to have normal pillows. I love the new down comforter and duvet - they are so pretty and will smell like us, not like hotel laundry. Really, the little things matter.

Tom did laundry tonight, which was a gift. We don't have a lot of clothes so it doesn't take too long, and it's nice!

I'm looking forward to having my dogs back. I miss my morning walks and meditation. It's hard to meditate with six people in a small space. The pool doesn't open till 10, so I can't swim early, though they probably wouldn't care. They have been super nice to us. Emma apparently has carte blanche at the pool but I credit the bikini ;).

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Dreams of Disaster

I've been having nightmares. As if the reality isn't enough - Jude's been at the ER for an exploding glowstick to the eyes, and Lucy fell in the hotel pool the other day. I follow her around in my dreams, protecting her from a myriad of disasters - water, vehicle, you name it. Jude is always in the background - there, but generally safe and a source of info. I must trust the girls to take care of themselves, as they don't figure in these dreams.

Lucy and Jude have been coming into our bed every night. It's hard to sleep in the hotel - our room is a loft, so unless we turn all the lights out and stop talking at 8:30pm, the littles have a hard time getting to sleep on the sofabed in the living room. I don't want to ask the girls to switch out of their bedroom, as they need their privacy at 15 and 12.5.

I am supposed to be able to start looking at rental houses over the next week. It will be good to be more settled, though our hotel is in a great and convenient location to shopping and friends. Today we're going to visit our dogs, which will be great. I really need a puppy fix.

Tom has been out at the house every day, meeting with inspectors, auditors, restoration and laundry companies. He is a saint. Today, he is meeting with an environmental company, who are checking for asbestos and lead paint; I assume, because the house is 19th century vintage.

It is intriguing to me how we can stretch the rubber band self just so far, and then, for me, I need to create safe haven - what is known and beloved. Making the hotel as much like our house as possible has been a source of calm in the storm for the kids and I. Even doing laundry and folding it is soothing. The regular routine of our days is shattered, but I'm trying to restore it - it seems like a biological need.

I've been able to reschedule my Meadville classes for January so I can stay here next month. It won't impact my graduation in May; just require travel in January and March. We all need to be together. I have a visceral reaction to being away from my children right now. I see it for what it is, but it doesn't make it any easier to deal with. My Wellspring group had its last meeting yesterday. It was fabulous. What an amazing group of people and I'm so excited that they are going to continue on in Wellspring 2 next year! I am thrilled to be able to grow and learn from them for another year. That is the joy of a 2 year part-time internship - the opportunity to have a deep relationship with the congregation and the staff.

In any event, rain is forecast today and the kids are stir crazy. We're going to make some returns, hit the library, visit the dogs and go to a museum. It's kind of nice to be in Mom-Mode for the next month or so. Maybe I'll even get a pool-side tan ;).

Continued blessings on all who have emailed notes, money, support, and brought meals. We are so grateful and feel so lucky to have an amazing community, both locally and across the world.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

What a Fire Teaches Me

1. Everytime I look at my children, I get tearful, and am filled with gratitude that they are all safe. Keep tissues with me at all times.

2. Neighbors are the salt of the earth. One that I barely know rode up on his John Deere tractor the day of the fire and handed me a check for $100. He wouldn't take no for an answer. Our next door neighbor took in the kids, fed them pizza, cared for our cat, and called her niece to bring us clothes. Said niece dropped them off at the hotel the day of the fire and if it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have had a shirt on my back the next day.

3. I love my dog even more than I knew. He's being loved to death by a dear friend and her sons, who were thinking about getting a dog. It's a good trial run for them. But I just made coffee for the first time since the fire, and the habit of grabbing his leash, rubbing his silky Golden ears, and watching him hop up and down is sorely missed.

4. Speaking of coffee, I am ever more grateful for Starbucks and a coffee pot of my own. Hotel coffee is...sustaining, but not very good.

5. Losing all your clothes allows you to redefine your wardrobe, but it takes time. I don't have much in the way of ministry clothes yet, and when I got dressed to perform a wedding yesterday, found myself digging through my daughter's clothes, and borrowing her size 8 (children's!) Justice tank top to wear under my blouse. I do wish I liked to shop more. Shoe shopping itself is enough to make me want to scream.

Shopping for essential clothes with my 15 and 12 year old yesterday almost killed me. A whirlwind tour through DSW, Marshalls, Plato's Closet, and Target = sore feet, sore back and happy girls. I am also now shod with new sneakers. I still like to bargain shop though! Plato's Closet was a definite WIN.

6. Children are resilient, but only to a point. So are adults. I'm looking forward to church and an afternoon by the hotel pool, catching up on work. And yes, the wireless at the hotel is finally fixed! It will be good to catch up on work and setup my new laptop. I missed my media!

7. Love my iPhone. Couldn't have survived without it.

8. Don't shop at WalMart. They don't care if you have no underwear and will not help you out in a pinch when your new checks won't be read by their cash register.

9. Do shop at Anne Taylor Loft Outlet in Waterloo. My checks wouldn't clear there, but they called the bank, and figured out how to use my Red Cross debit card so I could buy clothes to perform above mentioned wedding. They also secretly took 40% off of my total order.

10. Mariott also gets a huge round of applause. They didn't have rooms available for us to stay consecutively, but the hotel manager moved other people around to accommodate us in our suite until semi-permanent housing can be found. Julio is my new bff.

11. Traveler's Insurance also - well, I just want to kiss them. You know that State Farm commercial where the insurance agent magically appears after an accident? Well, that should be Traveler's commercial. Chad was there within 2 hours. He referred us to Mike, who called us, texted us, emailed us, dealt with the hotels within 6 hours of the fire. 72 hours later, we were hooked up with Rich, our large claims agent, who explained everything in minute detail, over and over, and is awesome. They are covering everything in the house, plus the reconstruction (or whatever happens). They are helping us get everything laundered to try to salvage the kids' clothes, have a cleaning company coming in to take everything out, and a placement agency negotiating a  rental. Looks like we'll be out of the house for at least six months.  They are also reimbursing the Red Cross for our hotel stay and grocery/clothing money. The agent said, "You have insurance. Other people don't. We want the Red Cross to be able to take care of those other people."

12. I really am not attached to material things. That doesn't mean I don't burst into tears when I realize I don't have a hairbrush when I get out of the shower. I also miss my bed. And it's not coming back, people. It's a charred mess on my back lawn. I also miss my awesome Born boots that I got in Chicago at J-term this year.

12a. Just because I am OK with losing my stuff doesn't mean my kids are. iPods have been replaced, sparkly shoes have been bought. Making things as normal as possible is vital for the kids and even me. It was a huge relief to climb into the shower on Thursday and have my brand of body soap, shampoo, shaving cream, deoderant, etc.

13. I have the best friends and church(es) in the world. My best friend has watched my kids. The church has given us money. Our friends and even people I don't know have donated to PayPal. I am so grateful to each and everyone of you. It has allowed us to get groceries so we can eat our normal food and accommodate the kids' dietary needs. It has allowed us to buy undies and shoes, to replace my laptop, to feel some modicum of safety net.

14. If you already have tickets to an amusement park when your house burns down, GO. We went to Seabreeze with our homeschool friends on Friday and it was definitely what we needed! It was wonderful to go on rides, eat junk food and see my kids smile. And I laughed when I climbed to the top of the water slide with Jude and a little boy assured me that "it is perfectly safe." I thought, "now this is a child who has never been through a fire. Nothing feels perfectly safe and isn't it odd that we're here doing some "safe" thrillseeking!"

A friend brought lettuce out of her garden for our salad, and another brought pasta and sauce and lettuce for our dinner that night. It was twice as delicious because it was given with love.

This is the first I've had Internet since Tuesday. We're headed off to church for my oldest daughter Emma to sign the membership book and become a new member of First Unitarian of Rochester today. A landmark day for sure :).

I have much to be grateful for is the biggest learning. I was already grateful; I just didn't know how much.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Fire and Gratitude

I am on a bad keyboard, but a quick note. Our house caught on fire today in the basement from an electrical issue. We are all safe, humans and pets. We are so grateful to our neighbors, Lauren Sample, Liza Artman, Mark and Rose Bowler, the Lyons police dept., fire dept. ambulance, chaplain, the Red Cross, Steve/Crow, the Dickasons, for hauling stuff, doing laundry, taking pets, etc. We are so, so humbled and grateful for the support on a Facebook group, the offers of help. We can't even believe the love we have received.

I had just run to WalMart for dish soap. I cannot thank my daughter, Emma, for getting the other 5 kids and the dogs and cat out safely. Emma deserves a medal. All 7 kids have been amazing - we have  friend and his 3 kids with us too.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mean Girls

So, I am all annoyed and feminista on the asses of girls who call their friends "whores" or "dressing promiscuously," or maybe they are just really "asking for it?" I mean really. I must be getting old, because I'm really starting to identify with those women who get pissed at my generation for not being feminist enough. Raising teenage daughters has me convinced, OK? Women are still getting the short end of the stick - but too often, from each other.

What is up with girls participating in this crazymaking behavior? Why are women of any age, who are comfortable with their sexuality, a threat? Why does it make other women crazy? Why do men feel they have to stomp out this behavior (unless it benefits them?) OK, I know I'm making some generalizations here. I apologize. But it seems to me as if society is moving awfully slowly in treating women as equals, and as more than their body parts, or their assumed sexuality, or sexual behavior (often incorrectly assumed, btw).

And why is it that women are uncomfortable confronting this behavior?

Yes, I have become a raging feminist. Sue me.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Spring cleaning

The semester is over. I'm on reduced hours at internship till mid-June. The kids have two more weeks of classes, and then things will really ease up. Today was the first day I was home in weeks, really. I had hoped to enlist all 4 kids to help with massive spring cleaning, but it was raining and cold, and the oldest two came down with a stomach bug last night, poor chooks.

So, I decided to dig in without them and started in my room. No laundry got put away or washed today, but my carpet is ripped out, furniture moved, walls washed down, floors vacuumed, my bathroom clean and baseboards scrubbed...some minor vacuuming and cleaning in the dining room and kitchen, but much more to come. I am so in love with my new-ish Kenmore canister vac!

I have also been cleansing my palate from classes. I got an A- in my Christian History class, and a Pass in Congregational Studies (I am assuming ). I started doing some reading for July's Religious Ed class, which I'm really enjoying, but have been so busy with kid stuff at the end of the "school" year that I have barely had time to breathe! I would really like to spend a week vegging out to some TV episodes I've missed, but I'm anxious to get my house in order again - getting out warm weather clothes, giving away what's outgrown, and cleaning every last corner. 

I've been thinking a lot about my dad and my brother. I was so overwhelmed when he died, with my dad's service, the cat getting hit and dying, and the basement flooding (and the truck dying...and issues with my ex)...that I am just now spring cleaning my heart. I didn't even send flowers to the funeral, I was so befuddled. Totally unlike me. I owe my SIL a call soon. I have been thinking about how losing my brother was in many ways like losing one of the few links I have left to my father. It was hard for me to bury my dad's ashes. I found some comfort in having them in my house. I have a small urn, but it's not the same. I still have his clothes  and things to unpack this summer; Jude in particular is looking for a green and white polo shirt of my dad's that he wants and remembers.

All of these steps are ways to simplify the process of loss. I let go a little more each time I am able to grieve and cry. Each time I give away some clothing, or find a photo and enjoy it. And because my father had dementia, I feel that he is more present for me now, than he was in his last year. I am finding it harder to find ways to grieve my brother. I didn't know him as well as I might have liked, and really just started connecting with him the last 18 months. He was clearly a kind man, who seemed to really love children. He was extremely kind to my kids when we had lunch after my dad's service. I feel such sorrow for his teens, who must miss him dreadfully. I wish I knew them better too, so that we could more easily lean on one another in this time. And stupidly, I miss the damn cat. He was a big, fat, bossy thing, but I miss him plopping down on me, putting the pug in her place, and waiting in the sink for me to turn on the faucet.

All of these griefs have forgiveness in common. My father was human and left hurts behind him. My brother and I never resolved many things we wanted to talk about. The person who hit our cat leaves behind outrage. So, I was so grateful to be able to attend the Coming of Age/Wellspring service at my internship congregation yesterday, and to hear how members of my group had been touched by the work we did on Forgiveness. It was a moment of grace that I know I needed in my life. I have learned so much from the wise people in Wellspring this year. I can't wait to see what the future holds for all of us.

Monday, May 2, 2011

An Eye for An Eye

I awoke this morning to the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed and buried at sea. I was disheartened to hear that President Obama had ordered that he be killed and not captured. I was also extremely disappointed to see Americans celebrating his death. So much for due process - that is what we stand for, and regardless of bin Laden's crimes, we stand on a Constitution that supports that due process. Look at the mess we still have with Guantanomo.

Americans were horrified at reaction to 9/11. How are we doing any better? This is not great behavior, regardless of one's nationality or religion.

I was also disappointed to hear NPR correspondent Margot Adler joining in the whoops of joy in her broadcast from Times Square this morning. Totally unprofessional for a journalist, and not, IMO, a very good representation of Pagan/UU ethics. I can't find the link right now, but will post it later.

Do I understand people's joy at his death, after so many of our own and others around the world have been murdered by his terrorism? Of course I empathize with it. But I don't think that assassination is something we really want to condone as a nation. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that singing the National Anthem and chanting USA! USA! is probably not a good representation of ourselves as a country, given the situation in the Middle East, and our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is often viewed as imperialistic and imposing westernization on the world. We are viewed as a Christian nation by many in the US, as well as outside our borders. It is concerning to me that this reinforces the negative view of Christianity and of our government to those who are fundamentalist Muslims, such as Al Quaeda, and to those who have suffered at the hands of our soldiers over the last 10 years (intentionally or collaterally).

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Gratitudes of life

I just wanted to send out a note thanking everyone who has so lovingly held my family in their prayers. I intentionally went into "turtle mode" yesterday, so if I have not responded to a call, message, or text, it is not personal; I am taking some time to process and take care of myself and my immediate family in the midst of some of life's challenges.

I am grateful for the hardworking and loving veterinary clinic staff who did their best to save our kitty, Max and who were extremely kind to us when it became clear he wasn't going to make it.

I am grateful for my home congregation, who has lifted my volunteer work from my shoulders for a few weeks while we get our feet under us again.

I am grateful for my Meadville Lombard classmates and faculty, who have been so patient and kind this year. I have a lot to "pay forward" in the coming year!

I am grateful to my kids, who have been supportive and patient with two of us being in college, and helping to make sure our house runs relatively smoothly, even in the midst of loss and feeling embattled at times, I'm sure!

I am especially grateful to my husband, who has dredged out the flooded basement, been a rock during the loss of my father and two brothers this year, and who always puts on his bravest face, even when he's tired.

I am grateful for both of my church communities - I love you all, and am moving through this year with as much patience and grace as I can muster, mostly due to the spoken and unspoken love and support from my home congregation and my teaching congregation. I cannot even believe how full my life is of wonderful, wonderful people.

I am grateful to get a chance to get to know more of my father's family, even though the reasons for that chance come out of death and grief.

I am grateful for warm spring weather, even though the rains have conspired against us and our belongings. It feels so good to have the sun on my face, and to walk the dog without layers of clothes, a hat, and mittens. It is healing to get outside and watch the trees burst into life again.

I am grateful for my teaching minister, Jean sharing the book "Great Occasions" with me. I end with a quote from Paul N. Carnes:

Inevitably our anguish frames the question "Why?" if not on our lips, in our hearts. There is no answer that removes this question - no answer that can bridge the chasm of irreparable separation. Life will never be the same, and this is as it should be, for our loved ones are not expendable. 

We can meet such loss only with our grief, that uncontrived mixture of courage, affirmation, and inconsolable desolation. Grief is enough; for, in our grief we live an answer, as in the depths love and selfishness conjoin until, if we allow it, love asserts its dominance, and we become more aware of the community of living of which life makes us a part. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Writing as spiritual practice

Ha! I kill myself. Last January I said I was going to try to write everyday. And I do. I write Facebook posts, and papers, and replies to papers, and emails and sermons. But I don't write the things that are in my head, because I just don't have time.

I don't write about Japan and the earthquake and tsunami. I don't write about nuclear reactors and radiation leaking into the ocean. I don't write about how raising a teenage daughter is exhausting and eerily parallel to reliving one's own adolescence, except this time you don't get to have the fun of being devious and naughty before you get caught - you just get to be the bad guy.

I don't write about dealing with a child with ADHD or the way I feel about the school system (not good, if you don't already know). I don't write about my feelings on class warfare and immigration, or about being divorced and trying to co-parent effectively. I don't write about gender issues and being a woman in ministry.

I don't write (much) about being in the sandwich generation and what it means to have aging parents and to lose one. I don't write about my crazy dog who won't be housebroken and who chews up my theology books.

But these are just the tip of the iceberg of the things I'd write about if I only had time. I dream about them though. Last night I dreamt a whole sermon about "Being Heard," based purely on anecdotes about my teenager daughter and my dog.

But it's OK. This too shall pass. I love internship and ministry and school (though I swear I'm never taking another class from the Lutherans!). I just have so many things I think about and no time to write about, but they come out in sermons and essays and reflections and...just not here.

Ah, I feel better now :) I'm looking forward to August when I plan to reread every Stephen King book I own and go to the beach. Then I"ll write. Maybe.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Timeline of Grief

I'm feeling particularly raw lately. That "bubble" I developed during chaplaincy seems to be intact during minstry work itself, but in my personal life, it seems to have popped like so much warm air.

A friend was discussing the first spring of being without her father, and that made me cry. Earlier, I was with a dear friend/teacher, who lost her her mother last week and she told me of the large hole it has created in her life, and I found myself a few moments later, fled to the ladies' room, to dab my streaming eyes, and put myself back together.

My son is ill with strep throat. It's his first experience with needing antibiotics and somehow more difficult than the flu we all just went through. But today, at the doctor's, he was "a poor source of information" as was my own father. His spirit is close and present in these transitional days of sun and snow, before real spring comes to upstate New York.

I am bone tired, so maybe my defenses are truly down, which isn't a bad thing. I'm having a bit of trouble keeping up with everything as the semester churns into its final six weeks. I haven't been home since Christmas and am missing my old stomping grounds. I am feeling the stresses and joys of mothering teens and tweens, preschoolers and school-agers.

I am deeply saddened and struggling with how to understand and cope with world events in the Middle East and Japan, as well as the role of the United States and the choices we are making. The whole front page of the New York times made me want to weep today.

However, my daughter just came in and told me she is being pursued by the University of Pennsylvania as a potential transfer student, which brightened me up again. It's such a statement on our humanity that our personal experiences are a profoundly important way in which we interpret global events. Little successes are vital, both on a personal  and on a global scale. Thank you, Sharon Welch!

So I grieve. And study, and pastor, and grieve some more. I look forward to days of reading and sun; of recuperation and freedom from ill children and outside influences that threaten any sense of wellbeing - bacteria or other.

And I sleep. Sleep is healing, as apparently is apple juice.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Measured sigh of relief

First, my mother is doing better, though may have suffered a mini-stroke/TIA during the night. We are waiting for the CT scan results.

My hearing went as well as could be expected today. The demands have been reduced, and the girls will meet with an attorney that's been assigned to them. They have to undergo independent testing, but there was no push to move them into the school system. In terms of custody, that will be part of the discussions we will all have with the children's attorney of the next couple of weeks.

Thank you for all of the support, prayers and love I felt holding me throughout the proceedings.

Now, to get through surgery and the RSCC in the next couple of weeks :)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lent, Spring, and preparing for the RSCC

Last weekend, a friend of mine preached at my internship congregation, and at the end, she charged us with looking at Lent as an opportunity to reflect and act on our interdependence with all of creation. I was raised Catholic, and I actually really loved Lent and the rituals around it. One of the reasons is probably that I didn't feel that I answered to God, but to my parents. One year I gave up TV for Lent, and On Golden Pond was being shown, and I was able to negotiate an extension of Lent by a day in order to watch it.

But now there is no negotiating, except with myself, so I was determined to take Libby's charge seriously. So we have given up paper products (meaning paper plates, paper towels, and paper napkins) for the duration of Lent. So far it's going pretty well, and everyone is on board with it. It's a good spiritual practice to be aware of our carbon footprint, and how much waste we generate as an already large family of six.

The idea of privation, or making sacrifice is not unheard of for my children; we aren't wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, and we regularly reuse, recycle, etc. But this is a very intentional practice, and it's been interesting to watch how everyone does it. I did threaten to make us use cloth toilet paper, but everyone insisted that was going too far and threatened to mutiny. I countered that it wasn't different than using cloth wipes that we washed and reused with cloth diapers when each child was a baby, but I didn't get very far! Apparently non-diapered butts require paper products ;).

In other news, I actually believe that spring might arrive someday, despite the weather report that says it will be in the teens tonight. There has been a tremendous migration of geese, which is one of the joys of living in the Finger Lakes region of New York. I saw an entire field white with snow geese the other day, with hundreds more filling the sky. On the Thruway over the last three days, there have been Vs of Canadian geese as far as the eye can see; it never ends. I have also seen a number of heron pairs and heard a mourning dove this morning.

I am hopeful that spring will bring a fresh start. The last 12 months have been one difficulty after another it seems. Today was no exception. Since last March, I have had two hand surgeries, and just found out that I have to have a much more extensive one next Friday, on my dominant hand, for a large cyst that is wrapped around my tendons. That pretty much eliminates gardening again this summer, much to my dismay.

My mother went into the hospital with congestive heart failure today. She has been in the hospital numerous times in the last three years, but her breathing is getting worse. She has fluid in her lungs and they suspect she has had another heart attack.  My mother-in-law has been in the hospital 3 times since October, with a total of 5 weeks just since Christmas. My father died in November. I've been in and out of court with my ex-husband over child support twice, and have to go on Wednesday again, because he has filed a custody and educational modification around custodial time and homeschooling. I have been struggling with migraines and medication issues since last April.

In less than a month, I return to the RSCC, (for those not UU, it's part of the process of ministry) and I certainly have learned a lot in the last year. I have learned that crisis is not in my vocabulary. Between seminary, parenting, homeschooling, working, internship, volunteering, cleaning, and very little sleep, I have learned to take each day as it comes. I have learned that my daily spiritual practice pays off. I have learned to be much more patient, to listen more, and to incorporate silence and self-care into every single day. I've learned just how very rich I am in friends, and how right I was to follow the call into ministry.

There have been some wonderful things that have happened this year. My children are growing up and becoming more fabulous all the time. My husband is pursuing his own journey of personal transformation. I am in love with my teaching congregation. I have food; shelter; snuggly husband, pets and children; and so much love in my life.

So I guess spring will bring what it must, and life will happen, just as it always does, bringing challenge and grace, a day at a time. Namaste to all who have carried my journey with them in their prayers and hearts this year. Just a few more - for my mother, for the best outcome at court on Wednesday, and for a successful surgery next Friday, with a fast recovery.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Parenting as a Spiritual Practice

I am considering starting a small group on this topic next year. All I can say is that parenting has made me a stronger person, helped me grow in ways I would never have imagined, and requires a lot of patience.

I am so tired. My oldest will turn 15 tomorrow. She is amazing. Beautiful. Intelligent. Stylish. And very much a teenager, with the normal flaws that go along with that. But I love her so much. Parenting a 15 year old and a 4 year old takes a certain amount of humor though. They both like to talk a lot. They both like to snuggle. They both like to interrupt me when I'm trying to work or study. But it's an amazing, awe-filled journey.

Having a 15 year old means that I, of course, am no longer a youngster. My body is betraying me in little dibs and drabs, and in very inconvenient ways. I have had two hand surgeries in the last year, and have to have another one in a couple of weeks, that will be a much more extensive surgery, and a longer recovery.

And I am finding that I absolutely require more sleep in order to function well.

Parenting a teenager is just as much fun, and just as much work as I expected. I love every bloody minute of it. It is such a gift to see a child becoming a young adult, and to move out into the world. It's bittersweet as well, because I love her so much and do not look forward to the day when she doesn't lay on the foot of my bed to chat each night.

In any event, dear Emma, I love you to the stars and back. You are strong, capable, gorgeous, fun, brilliant, motivated, and just all-around wonderful, and I hope I tell you all those things enough. I am so very proud of you, despite your faults (and mine), and I am so grateful that your spirit chose me to be a mother for the first time.

Namaste my dear girl.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Connect & Breathe in UU World

I received my issue of UU World yesterday, and sat down this morning with it, and my cup of coffee. I found myself thrilled and inspired by what I read within this month. First of all, as a person with a degree in communications, I enjoyed Peter Morales' editorial on communication and learning how to do it better in the 21st century. Having accessible web presence and communications that reach people where they are - through Facebook updates sent by text, tweets, and email, are vital additions to traditional print communications.

I also really enjoyed Donald Skinner's article about A Third Place and missional work. This speaks directly to the creative ministries we were encouraged to think about in Rev. Lee Barker's class on post-denominational ministry last January at Meadville Lombard.

And of course, I totally loved the article To Listen without Judging by Kimberly French. Connect & Breathe is a reproductive justice initiative I probably wouldn't have gotten involved in had I not been at church the day Rev. Kaaren Anderson gave her sermon on abortion and sexual justice. However, I was there, and was one of the multitudes that signed up to help. Last night, I sat for my second time on the hotline with another volunteer and had such a wonderful evening chatting with my co-volunteer about feminism, sexuality, and abortion. These are topics that don't often come up in my day-to-day life outside of church. But they are key to my understanding of class, gender and justice. I definitely have more to say about these topics!

The training that C&B has put together, as well as the thoughtfulness to language and public perception of the talkline are highly impressive. I am thrilled to be a part of this work as part of my commitment to my home congregation, and as part of my internship work that I'm doing as part of seminary and ministerial formation.

And finally, it was lovely to read Myriam Renaud's article, Got God? Myriam co-taught the Liberal Theology class I took at Meadville Lombard in January, and is delightful. I was very inspired by her theology studies and approach to Unitarian Universalism through her understanding of God.

I haven't been blogging much. Family, school, illness, and internship have sucked all the hours from my days. I have homeschooling reports to write, and a paper on Pietism due today. Despite the busy-ness and other stresses, (like the foot of snow we're getting, again), I am happy. Life is full of meaning and love and gratitude.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Rough week

No really. I don't mean to whine, but first Jude got a headache last Thursday. It turned into the flu on Friday and today is the first day he doesn't have a fever.

Lucy had a runny nose on Thursday, a fever on Friday, which has progressed to high fevers and a trip to the ER tonight with a pneumonia diagnosis.

Emma succumbed to flu-like symptoms yesterday but is fighting them off with her amazing powers.

Soren had a weekend of coughing.

Tom and I each had time off work due to the flu. I am so sick and can't sleep and I begged the doctor to just take me out back and shoot me, but she refused ;).

On top of it all, Monday was my dad's birthday. I find myself thinking of him all the time this week. I miss his presence and am oddly comforted by having all his ashes in my house currently. I can imagine the feel of my palm on his face. I can imagine his hands, his ring, his ears. I remember what it was like to touch all of those things, to run my finger over the dip in his forehead where he had bone removed during brain surgery, and how cold, cold he was, at the funeral home. I miss him so very much. I had no idea how much it would hurt to lose him.

I have spent the weeks back from Chicago in a frenzy of activity, getting kids where they need to go, trying to get caught up/started with spring semester (already!), prepping my taxes, and finishing an unexpected work project that brought in some much-needed capital.

I am always so grateful when I am healthy because I hate to be sick so much. Really hate it. I cannot wait for everyone to be well again. I will make new Wellness Resolutions about walking every day, and getting to accupuncture 2x/week!

In an event, I am so grateful for my colleagues, friends and family who have been supportive and patient during this time. My dear friend Lauren drove 2 hours today to pick up my older kids and get them to class and such, so I didn't have to drag sick babies out in the car. I love her. SO MUCH!

Anyway, off to bed. But I am filled with gratitude for the love I find myself surrounded with despite the pain and illness surrounding us right now.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Internal vs. External Motivation

What do y'all think about this CarrotMobbing thing? On some level it reminds me of when my daughter was in 2nd grade (and maybe schools still do this) and the kids would get a special treat when teachers noticed them doing something good. I'm not a huge Alfie Kohn fan, but I have to admit that this seems manipulative and sets up individuals and businesses to act in a way that may not be authentic long-term.

I have never really liked the carrot or the stick approach - where do our morals come from? Where is our internal motivation to act in accordance with our beliefs and morals. But we are externally motivated by our socialization and communion with others in a way that's inextricably intertwined. This is the question that some theists ask of humanists - how can one be moral without the dogma - without the threat of eternal punishment.

Anyway, I'd rather shop at a store whose owner chose to act responsibly and ethically without being manipulated into it.

(and yes, fellow preaching students, I'm reflecting on this during our conversation on authenticity!)

Sunday, January 23, 2011


The last week of class looms - preaching for the week! I just got back to my apartment from my sister's house, where I had an absolute blast. I got to visit with her, her husband, two of her sons. My sister and I went to see a band called Soda last night with her best friend and her crazy next door neighbor. My roommates and I are going to go see them on Thursday.

I have one more major paper to write, and one fun creative project. I am homesick as hell and miss my family with a passion. I love my roommates and could not have survived J-Term without them! I want to take them all home with me. We are planning an annual retreat with each other after we graduate.

Anyway, five more days. Woohoo!!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The home stretch

Another class done - Arts & Aesthetics. It was great fun, and an opportunity to bond with students I didn't know very well. I especially enjoyed our trip to the Art Institute, and hearing each of us speak about which piece of art grabbed us, and for what reason. I was busily sending photos of the artwork to my 12 year old the whole time, who is a wonderful artist. I can't wait to take her there one of these days - maybe this summer.

I still have a lot of writing to do, and I took on a paid project while I'm here, but UPS seems to have not shown up to deliver the material, which is both stressful, and also buys me a day to work on school projects.

I'm feeling quite homesick for the kids and my husband. I've talked to or Skyped with them every day, and it's been great to see how organized they're all being with school work and schedules while I'm gone. My husband seems to be enjoying the opportunity to be home and spend lots of time with all four of the kids; me being gone for a bit is an opportunity for everyone to appreciate everyone else I think!

This coming week I take on the Preaching class with Bill Schultz. I'm nervous and excited about it. I've heard wonderful things about the class, and had a class with Bill last year, so know he's a great teacher who will push us to do our best work.

Back to writing and preparing taxes, so I can go and visit with my sister tonight. She's dragging me out to see her favorite band, so I'm looking forward to a lot of fun and laughter, which is a good antidote to the stress I'm feeling about all the things I have to deal with when I get home next week.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Week One over

I have to say that even though I knew what to expect of intensives this year, it is exactly the same mix of whirling experience. I was part of a large liberal theology class for the last five days,the outcome of which is a paper identifying our five vital questions about putting our theologies into practice in our ministries. Long days of lecture and small group work, interrupted by working lunches/information sessions about UUA and ministry track issues, followed by evenings of shared meals, meetings, and early bedtimes have been exhilarating and exhausting, inspiring and overwhelming.

It's amazing to see how much our class has transformed from 18 months ago when we started this journey though. Most of us have been through Clinical Pastoral Education, a large group of us are in our internships, and we are much further into discerning where this call is taking us. It's a fascinating sociological experiment to observe this year's class, my class, the part-time students, and the students from prior programs. Part of being in ministry is learning the art of being participant/observer of your system, and being totally enveloped by the intensive seminary experience is a great opportunity to practice that skill in a safe environment where you can practice without too much fear of screwing up royally.

When I was so busy during the week, I didn't miss my home life too much, but this weekend, I'll be visiting with my sister, so things will slow down a bit. My roommate brought her daughter to visit our apartment this weekend, so I got to snuggle with her, which filled up my cup a little bit -  I am missing snuggles from my own kids! Last year at January term, I realized how much physical contact I get from my kids and husband - when I'm traveling, it's very isolating physically, so it was a real gift for my friend to share her sweet kidlet with me!

I still have plenty to do this weekend - catching up on work, papers to write, reading to do. Tuesday I start Arts & Aesthetics, which I am very much looking forward to. It'll be a different kind of a class then Liberal Theology. The following week I am taking Preaching with Bill Schultz, which I am very much looking forward to.

So that's the update from the trenches. More to come as I process all of the things I've been learning.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

January, January

It seems to have been a long time since I have journaled. Much of my writing energy has been going to homilies, papers, reading journals, etc. I have also not been writing much publicly, because I have some personal things going on that are making me a little paranoid about putting anything about my schedule, my schooling, my path, my parenting, out into the public eye.

In any event, I'm just about to finish up my first intensive class of the year at Meadville Lombard, and have been thoroughly engaged by my Liberal Theology class, taught by Mike Hogue. It has given me a good context historically and theologically, for which to imagine the practicalities of ministry in a parish setting.

I am going to see my sister this weekend, and write some papers. I am thrilled to get to visit with her. I have been Skyping with the kids and my husband almost daily, which is wonderful. A combination of child care, time off work for my husband, and a few hours of childcare by my two oldest has made things run smoothly. Everyone is on a good schedule (better than when I'm there apparently LOL) of school work, chores, and playtime!

I have the best roommates in the world. We're staying in a B&B near the school, and are having fun with our rampant sarcasm, theological musings, and cooking all manner of yummy food.

I miss home  but have been so engaged by school that the time has flown by. Tomorrow another dinner with friends after the last day of my first class.

I am also doing the final pieces of paperwork to turn into the RSCC for my return interview in April. I am very excited and a little bit anxious about it. This has been a year of tremendous ministerial growth for me.

I am also missing my teaching congregation and my home congregation; and thankful for morning prayer with colleagues, and Vespers on Wednesday evenings.

Anyway, I'm fully off to the races here, and it's fabulous!