Lost, and Finding…

16352_10200681626144596_496301929_n“I feel like a lost a year of my life.”

That’s what I tell people, and it’s true.

Struggle and strife in my marriage, counseling and arguing, separation and paperwork, single parenting and legal questions still unresolved (and a broken ankle, too). All of these things seemed to suck away my energy and consume my life, and I felt like I woke up a little in January, and have been waking up bit by bit ever since.

Finally cleared from my ankle fracture at the end of June, I’ve been able to start exercising again, making my way to Taekwondo with Ari (and sometimes on my own), and I even went running– two days in a row!– although that was a couple of weeks ago now…

So I’m starting to find my body again. It’ll take some time, and it’s not just about losing weight (although holy mackerel, there’s work to be done there), but about honoring and loving myself and my place in the world in an embodied way.

Finding my heart and spirit is gentler work, but requires the same sort of discipline, daily stretching and testing the muscles, building stamina and courage. This too is about honoring and loving myself and my place in the world, tentatively reaching back out to friends and family and community to re-forge the connections neglected or clouded by months of pain and self preservation.

And in all this, I’m starting to see that it’s not time that I’ve lost, but myself, or parts of myself. And maybe, when I’m honest, some parts have been missing for quite some time. But I’m finding them again, finding me again. Bit by bit, with the same faltering starts and stops with which I return to exercise and self care and deep belly laughter. But I’m there, underneath. Be gentle with me, but I’m there.

Hello, friends.

Resetting an Open Holiday Table

thanksgiving dinneras posted on the Reconciling Ministries Network blog

Family legend tells that the year after my parents separated, my mom faced the prospect of her first Thanksgiving alone. She accepted an invitation to the home of a friend, and my family and I have been spending alternating Thanksgiving holidays with them ever since, adding spouses and children and new traditions along the way, changing the location but keeping the love and laughter that I have always associated with my favorite holiday.

My nuclear family system is undergoing tremendous and unanticipated change. Change of the sadness and separation variety. With my two children spending the holiday break with their father, Thanksgiving represented for me my first long stretch away from my kids since the new visitation rotation started, my first holiday separated from the joys of my life, and my first Thanksgiving without a delightful, warm, amply-set table, packed to capacity with mismatched flatware and ringing with the noise of little people’s laughter.

Your basic hell.

Invitations to each of my parents’ houses did little to ease that pain; the thought of being surrounded by family—but not the family I missed—stung deeply. When I imagined myself with the rest of the guest list, as literally every other person who would be at each gathering spent the holiday with at least one of their children, there was no way I could imagine keeping turkey and stuffing in my belly.

Sometimes, family isn’t the place we can be. Or should be. Or is healthy or safe for us to be.

Sometimes, when family feels broken, what is really happening is a breaking open.

Fortunately, I know and love a lot of people who have a much more expansive concept of family. I’m part of this crazy connection of Methodists, and reconciling ones at that. I called a friend, who called a friend, and I ended up with a much more inclusive, broadly defined family celebration than the typical Thanksgiving crowd: four reconciling United Methodists, some good cooking (duck, not turkey), some shared laughter and song (okay only two of us sang), and a supportive space for tears, joy, and rejuvenation.

If that sort of feast isn’t a foretaste of the inbreaking of the kin-dom, I don’t know what is.

My expectation of the holiday stretch from Thanksgiving through the New Year isn’t born out of magazines and Martha Stewart, and doesn’t need to be picture-perfect. It does, however, include a strong focus on connection and love and family, and I’m experiencing what so many already know: that family is defined by who we love and cherish, the people with whom we set (and clear) the table, the ones who welcome our grief and our celebration.

In the Thanksgiving episode of the NBC show “The New Normal,” the main characters define for themselves a difference between relatives and family. While the former might represent obligation and dysfunction, places of pain or alienation, the latter are the ones with whom we choose to surround ourselves, the people who make a holiday special and sacred. I found mine, and it’s a vast and diverse family, some of whom are even related to me.

This season, may your places of brokenness be places of breaking open, and may your gatherings be filled with love and laughter and the deep joy of chosen family.

Diary of a Delegate: Wheels Up

General Conference logo, United Methodist Communications

I’m headed out to the airport in a few hours on my way to Tampa for General Conference.

Things on my heart as I journey:

– Following a lively discussion at my church yesterday, I’m even more interested to follow the petition to divest United Methodist funds from Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett Packard in opposition to their roles in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. It may change some in committee, but I’m hoping for an action that will help us literally put our money where we say our hearts are.

– Praying for a fully inclusive church. Although I’m not going to go all out and say that this is the year when we will strike down the “incompatibility” clause, grace abounds, God works in mysterious ways, and every step is another bend in that long, long arc of the universe.

– Praying that we can do no harm to women wrestling with life’s most challenging situations.

– Feeling broken about the state of our church, and the pressure to restructure as a response in fear. May we be motivated by hope and trust, not anxiety.

– Missing my kids before I even leave.

Justice and Joy! See you in Tampa.

Diary of a Delegate: End– or Beginning– in Sight

General Conference logo, United Methodist Communications

It’s my last official day of work before General Conference. The phone is ringing constantly with church work and with people calling delegates for last minute legislative pitches. It’s actually kind of fun in a strange, stressful way.

Here online, I want to give another thanks to UM Insight for reposting my thoughts on bullying (my original post). Nice to be once again sharing space with my buddy Jeremy, too. Looking forward to seeing you in Tampa!

On the home front, my 21 month old son has a massive infection in his eyes, ears, and sinuses. Nothing like leaving one’s partner with a sick kid. I guess Will thought that his dad needed a bigger challenge at single parenting. He’ll have some grandparent assistance, but it really takes a village to raise kids, especially when they keep getting sick, and Mommie is jetting off to Florida for a couple of weeks.

The next person who tells me to “enjoy the vacation” is going to get laughed at in a most cynical fashion.

Extrovert that I am, I am mostly looking forward to connecting and reconnecting with friends from around the country and around the world. If you haven’t met me before, in heels I’m almost 6′, and I’ll be carrying a bright red laptop bag and whenever plausible wearing hot pink ally-fabulous Darren Criss sunglasses, hanging around the MFSA tabernacle, and advocating tirelessly for justice, inclusion, tenderness, and love. I should be hard to miss.

At least that’s my intention.

Preparing (to go away) for General Conference

Christ is Risen! I hope Holy Week was a powerful and prayerful time for those of you who observe it. My experience, while exhausting, was rewarding and filled with Spirit.

2/3 of what I'll miss while I'm in Tampa

And now, with out much further ado, my countdown to the United Methodist Church’s General Conference 2012 begins. We’ve got two week to finish getting ready– whatever that means.

I neglected to reblog the link last week, but I was one of three people highlighted in a United Methodist Reporter article about what delegates are doing to prepare. I won’t be too miffed that they dropped my title in the article; I’m very glad that they kept what I had to say about the pressure it puts on my husband and our support network to be spending so much time away from home and family. I think that’s a real issue as we ponder why more young people don’t run as delegates.

This our hymn of grateful praise

My family and I have much to be thankful for this holiday.

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite time of year, perhaps even more so now that it is one of the only holidays that doesn’t fall on a weekend and a major church work day. It’s a time for family and good food, and reflecting on all the blessings of life.

This year, there’s health and happiness, there’s a loving community (and a friendly street– never again to be taken for granted!), and there is new life– one nephew born almost a month ago and one niece or nephew making his or her way into the world right now.

May you celebrate all that you have to be thankful for, and see the blessings great and small all around you.

Life happens

Bless me, blogosphere, for I have sinned.

Great, gulping sins of omission. I have been a negligent blogger, and have failed to write about a great many wonderful and interesting things.

On the flip side, I’ve been a very good mommie (and new auntie as well!). And now I’m a mommie who has a kid in school and a kid who is (finally!) in daycare three days a week, and I can begin to build a working and workable routine again.

It’s my goal to upload my sermons by the end of the day the Monday after they are preached (Tuesday at the latest), and to post at least one non-sermon reflection at some point during the week.

Topics on my mind, to which you can look forward in the days and weeks ahead, include:

– my thoughts, belatedly, on the occupy movement and religious responses thereto

– my experience as a delegate preparing to attend her first United Methodist General Conference, and various and sundry reflections on the process, the legislation, and the mass amounts of spam mail

– as a sub-topic, I may very belatedly join the conversation about the UMC Call to Action report, although others have been pretty thorough

– why I signed and standby a statement saying that I am prepared to marry any couple (regardless of the genders of the parties) who comes to me seeking a Christian marriage and determined to be ready through our meetings together, and why I see this as an act not of ecclesial disobedience, but of spiritual and covenantal obedience

– my new-found love of the Martial Art of Taekwondo, and why it has become for me a spiritual practice

And then, you know, there’s some holiday or other on the horizon, and I’m sure life will continue to happen. So much better than the alternative.

Be richly and beautifully blessed, and take note of it especially in this season of giving thanks!

You’ve got to be carefully taught

The other day, my daughter asked me about Abraham Lincoln at breakfast.

I explained who he was, and why he was important, which led to a conversation about slavery. I don’t think she believed me when I described that people had once bought other people to do work for them. I didn’t even get into questions of race and power, but merely the idea of buying and selling and owning people like things. She giggled at me and said, “Mama, that’s the silliest thing I ever heard. You can’t own other people. That’s mean. You’re not making sense.”

While I applaud her faith in humanity, I did explain that sometimes people do things that are very very mean and do not make any sense. I love that her world is one where the very idea of something like slavery is so bizarre she assumes it’s unreal.

We still haven’t really had a conversation about race. A couple of years ago, when Obama won the nomination for president, she asked who he was and why he was important. After his name and the position he was running for, I tried to explain why he was special in this moment in history. I said something like “see how his skin is a different color than mine?” She just looked at me with these big confused eyes and said, “I have skin. I like skin.” I shut my mouth tight. I’d be damned– pretty literally– if I was going to instill that in my daughter.

So now I watch her with her friends, and although we live in the whitest state in the country, there are some kids in her class and her church whose skin is darker than alabaster. And she seems not to notice. I even ask her what she likes or doesn’t like about a classmate, or what makes a friend special or different, and she doesn’t mention skin color. She doesn’t mention if they have one or two parents or if those parents are the same gender. She doesn’t mention how people dress or what part of town they’re from or whether or not lots of other people like them.

Her judgments are restricted to “she’s nice to me,” “he’s on my bus,” and “she took my crayon.”

Which is as it should be. Would that we all saw each other like kindergartners do, and the only judgments we made were based on relationship and behavior.

When I commented about this on facebook, a friend reminded me of the lyrics from South Pacific:

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught from year to year,
…It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

That’s true, and I am so honored to have the opportunity to teach two children something different, to raise a generation that can maybe look past race and sexual orientation and whatever else. But I can’t ignore these issues either, because I am not my daughter’s only teacher. Soon peers and classmates will have a huge pull in her life, and even if I have taught her otherwise, they get to have their say. Some of them may try to convince her to look down on others because of the color of their skin, the gender of their parents, their sexual orientation, their economic status, the clothes they wear, the way they talk, how much they weigh. Some of them may try to make her the victim. Kids can be nasty and bully each other for any (or no) reason. We’ve been seeing recently how deadly that can be, but it has always been vicious and violent.

Parenting is a huge and fearful responsibility. Because as much as I believe you have to be taught how to hate, I also believe you have to be taught how to stand up to those who are hateful.

(sermon uploading is stalled while I figure out why Audacity is quitting without saving projects)

In honor of National Coming Out Day, and to honor those who have lost their lives, and to share a message that I believe everyone should hear about bullying and our responsibility for it, I invite you to read a sermon by a friend and colleague of mine, Rev. Bri Desotell.

Becca Clark

Remember Me?

I’m back, and I made it through my first week in the office. Thursday, in fact, was an especially busy day (we don’t call it crazy Thursday for nothing; it’s always our most packed day!). By the end, my miniature assistant and I were exhausted. But it was a good kind of tired, and I felt very accomplished. I actually made it through 90% of my triage to-do-immediately list. It feels good to be back to work, and I have a somewhat renewed sense of focus, although still a little short on the energy.

I felt good about maintaining radio silence during my maternity leave, but boy oh boy did I miss a lot of things I wanted to blog about! how comes when I’ve vowed not to write anything, the whack-job pastors and their lighters come out of the woodwork? Oh well. You all knew what I would have said anyway.

And, being such a good girl about taking my leave as leave meant I got to spend more time on this:

Worth it. Understatement.