Monday, October 29, 2007


Fun fact from the farm: There's a volunteer papaya plant growing out of the waste heap on the edge of the garden. I haven't revealed my location here, but let me assure you, I do not live in papaya growing territory. The plant is about five feet tall, and has four pieces of fruit forming out of thick waxy white flowers. It looks very exotic.

The farmers have a solid reputation as local foods evangelists. Imagine the surprise on the faces of those who eat a dish they make using a "local" papaya!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Saturday night

It's 9:00 and I'm tired. The cat hasn't moved for the last 1o minutes. She's hypnotized by the pull string on the overhead light in the bedroom. She's talking to it in a high-pitched nervous tone. I don't know what threat it poses, but I sit here assured that if it makes a move, PPBob will get it.

It's been a terrific day. A ten-mile run with two friends got the morning started. Later, I went out to the farm to work in the garden. Another friend came along. We helped harvest the last of the peppers, pulled up cages from around pepper and tomato plants, and then pulled up the plants to make room for garlic. The sun was shining. There was a light breeze. We worked to the sounds of goats bleating, dogs barking, roosters crowing, and cats meowing.

We had a lunch of tomato soup and grilled cheese, but I guarantee you, this wasn't like the lunch your mom made. The tomato soup was homemade using tomatoes from the garden. The cheese was smoked cheddar from a local dairy, and topped off with a spicy green sauce that is locally made. We ate a few black cherry tomatoes and some tasty little red peppers while we worked.

Something inside of me shifts every time I go out there.

I came home and slept for about 30 minutes. The alarm woke me from a deep sleep. For a good thirty seconds, I had no idea what day it was, why I was waking up, and where it was I had to be. Fortunately, I figured it out, because the day ended with a moon-rise party at a friend's house. Their place is up on a hill that overlooks the city. The deck provided the perfect viewing of a deep red moon coming up on the horizon. Lots of good food and good company accompanied the moon.

And now, with the assurance that the cat will keep me safe from the evil pull string, I am going to sleep. I can't keep my eyes open any longer.
ETA: PPBob finally jumped off the bed and found something to occupy herself with. A minute later, she jumped back up with a little flower between her teeth. One of the kids at the party gave me the flower and I'd put it in the zipper of my sweater, but forgot about it when I took the sweater off. I guess she found it and thought she should bring it to me.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Thinking about writing

I had a conversation with a friend last night that was interesting. She asked me about how I use writing to get unstuck or to process things. I've thought about that before, but I'm not sure I've ever described it in the way I did last night. I told her that writing, for me, is a way of paying attention, of noticing as much a given moment holds as I can, and that in seeing, really seeing in that way, I often find what I need.

In the past almost three years since I started blogging, writing has been an essential part of the healing process. Once I started writing about things that mattered to me, I felt the self that I'd let get so numb and hidden slowly return. I began to feel again. I began to have hopes and desires and opinions and perspectives that I was prepared to voice.

What I didn't expect was the powerful way in which writing for an "audience," instead of just in my own private journal, would affect me. For one, it never occurred to me that what I was learning as I reflected and wrote would actually help someone else or hold any meaning at all for another. I credit that miscalculation to the sense of disconnection I felt from the world at that time. In isolation, my experience never seemed much like the grander human experience. Writing helped me connect to a grander narrative, not always one that is already written and accepted, but one discovered in the process of writing and listening to how others responded, a co-created grander narrative, I think. As I shared what I was learning, others would share how it resonated with them and new meaning would emerge. It's a process that I've come to love.

For another thing, I never expected anyone to think I wrote well. Self-expression was frowned upon in my family. Utilitarianism was the order of the day in exploring vocation in my house. What was valued was skill or talent that would lead to a good-paying career. My parents' sacrificed so much to offer us kids a chance to be educated for that very purpose. My sense of commitment to them and the heavy sense of responsibility I felt to fulfill their dream left me closed off to careers or educational opportunities that were largely focused on self-expression. So, I spent hours in a chemistry lab, analyzing experiments to find solutions to benefit the greater good of humankind, like finding a cure for cancer or some noble task like that, while my friends were reading Shakespeare and talking about Foucault and writing stories and poems for the school's annual student publication. I envied them, but not enough to "waste" my time on such pursuits. And I ignored my own dreams expressed to my therapist (and her strong encouragement) and pursued a PhD in pastoral theology and counseling rather than a PhD in homiletics. Educational choices have always been made out of a greater sense of usefulness than out of any sense of passion.

Well, that sounds much worse than it all was for me. I was fascinated by science and I love the discipline of bringing theology into conversation with cognate disciplines, but what has become more apparent to me in the past year is how much I've deprived myself in an effort to focus on the higher value of usefulness. I don't want to do that anymore. I think that's why I write. It's the way in which I'm most comfortable expressing myself. Many other ways tap too much into an unshakable self-consciousness. And, I just love putting words together to describe things, to find meaning in things.

I've been thinking more lately about how I want to give writing a more prominent place in my life. I don't have any answers for that yet, but it's something I'm seriously considering. And I'm putting my thoughts here to create some sense of accountability for them, to keep in front of me the importance of not slipping into that place where usefulness is valued in such a way that self-expression is sacrificed.

Monday, October 22, 2007

A turtle in the sun

The wind blows. It gusts with such urgency, heaving from deep inside the lungs of the earth to expel all that is left of summer. In its wake the air slowly grows cool and crisp. Leaves turn to gold and red and surrender their hold on the branches of the trees.

I hiked to a small pond on a nature preserve. Something inside beckoned me away to a quiet place to reflect. I sat on the soft ground, dead leaves crackling under my weight. I looked out past some trees at the edge of the pond to a log that was protruding through the surface of the water. A turtle had been resting there, soaking in the warmth of the sun. He was no longer there, but a quick glance around the pond revealed his whereabouts. He was swimming. The chiseled, angular shape of his head looked like the tip of a branch floating across the water.

The pond was full of clear, fresh water. It was darkened by the shade of the trees that surrounded it and the layer of dead leaves that had fallen to the bottom. My thoughts turned to the dark that had enveloped me for several days. It sneaked up on me from behind, reaching around to cover my eyes. It refused to speak. I hadn't been able to name it.

Sunlight filtered through the high branches of the trees, yet the water remained dark until gusts of wind rippled its surface. Small waves caught the light and spread it across the dark surface in glittery explosions like fireworks in a summer sky. As the wind died down, the pond darkened and settled again.

I asked the autumn wind to blow through me. I begged it to awaken the dark surface of my grief with ripples of sacred light, explosions of truth and meaning, of joy and hope in all that has come from what is no more. The wind spoke to me and said, "You are a turtle. You wear your fear on your back, retreating, hiding at the first sign that someone sees you, knows you."

I wanted to argue, but I surrendered instead, breathing deep, allowing the truth to reach inside me. "Yes," I said. "I am known in this place. It scares me, yet I long to know and be known more fully."

The air grew still for a moment. I sat with the tension of my awareness. The feeling's familiarity turned fear to dread. Tears began to flow. The wind spoke again. "Fear's call to retreat leads you into the dark waters of your grief. You swim in that darkness, looking up occasionally, checking to see if it is safe. I am the wind blowing through you. I am a fierce autumn wind. I have the power to break loose the hold of that which is dead inside of you, making room for the new to take hold."

"Why do I hold on to the old, dead things? Why does it feel safer than the new things I've worked hard for?"

"You cling because you do not yet trust the new things to be different enough to change you. You cling because you do not yet trust that you are different."

"Then what must I do?"

The autumn wind breathed deep and let her words ride on the gust of her warm breath. "Trust is a leap of faith. You are different. You can trust yourself. You can trust those around you, but you must have faith. Surrender and let me blow through you. I will turn your fear to trust."

I laid back on the soft ground, fists tight and teeth clinched. The warm breeze blew across me, relaxing the tight muscles in my face, my arms, my stomach. I took a deep breath, letting the autumn wind sweep through me. It blew with such strength that I feared losing everything, that it would sweep away even that which is new. I cried out, clinching my fists in anger, demanding that it take only the dead things. The gusts continued and I felt myself relax again. A deep peace and calm held me. I looked up. The pond had a new layer of dead leaves skimming across the top like tiny sailboats at the mercy of the wind.

And the turtle was on the log, legs and neck stretched out to soak in the autumn sun.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A little light....

Things are lightening a little today. I went to dinner with some friends last night and said some things out loud that helped me be clearer about what's causing the darkness. There's more to be said, and I will do that soon.

This morning, I got up and did the five-mile maintenance run. Doesn't that just sound fabulous?! Yeah, it makes me smile just to call a five-mile run "maintenance." Saturday, I'll make the first attempt at 10 miles. The possibility of finishing a half-marathon (13.1 miles) was real enough today that I registered for the one we're planning to run in December. When I clicked on the page for registration, an option to create a fundraising page was offered. The proceeds from the race are going to a local (in the city where the race is being held) children's hospital that offers its care free of charge to the families of the children who require it.

SFW was a patient in this hospital when he was a child. He saw doctors at the hospital yearly for a variety of the conditions he lives with, until he turned 18. In a few days, he will celebrate his 20th birthday. I accompanied him on a number of his appointments at the hospital. I was skeptical, certain there had to be strings attached to the whole "free" thing, but there are none. From the minute you walk in the doors of the hospital, all attention is given to the child's care and recovery. Money is never mentioned. Never.

So, I decided to set up a pledge page. I hate fundraising, but this is as easy as it gets. For one, I really, really believe in this cause. For another, I need a way to honor the child/man I love but can no longer see. And for yet another, I need a meaningful way to celebrate the accomplishment that running a half-marathon represents. I am not the same person I was two years ago. So much has changed for the better, and while there is still pain from all that I've lost, I have a good life. A very good life.

I invite you all, without an ounce of self-consciousness, to join me in this celebration. If you'd like to make a donation, go here. Regardless, I hope you'll join me in celebrating all that has happened in the last couple of years. I have so much to be grateful for!

Sunday, October 14, 2007


I've been in a really dark place since I woke up on Friday morning. I've tried a multitude of things to shake it, but nothing's helped much so far. Do you think if I ran around screaming at the top of my lungs that might do it?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Things I'm pondering tonight....

  • What would it take for me to get my own place in the country?
  • Why did the cat just look me dead in the eye and pee on my clothes lying on the floor instead of in her litter box? Do you think she's pissed because I came home with the smells of an entire menagerie on me last night?
  • Why does everything taste even better when you eat outside on a cool, quiet evening?
  • Is there enough water in the world to quench the terrific thirst I've felt all day since my morning run?
  • Is there any way I can work in a camping trip before the end of the month?

Another reflection

It's not yet 6:00 and I'm already in my pajamas, sitting in bed while I blog. I could easily go to bed now and not get up until morning, but I won't. I'm tired and relaxed, so it's hard to keep my eyes open. Last night some friends and I went out to the farm, walked around outside, petting goats, and admiring the vegetables. We cooked dinner and ate outside. With little more than crickets and an occasional dog barking for background noise, we had a calm, crisp, quiet night to enjoy each other's company, some good food, and a peaceful retreat from the city. And then this morning, I got up early to run (9 miles, thankyouverymuch!) and worked for a few hours, so I'm mush, but I've still got laundry to do, a phone call to make, and Sunday School to prepare, so I'll have to find some way to stay awake.

I've been thinking a lot about my last post. I appreciate the comments, though my intention at the time wasn't to sound quite so shaky about my own sense of who I am in relationships. I think the last question grows out of a desire to understand what are realistic expectations of my self and anyone else in a relationship, and to honor the fact that in my experience love's constancy has not been felt fully in one relationship. My mom loves me. I'm certain of that, but it is not the kind of accepting love that offers me the freedom to be myself fully with her. That's not likely to change, though I will remain open to that possibility.

How do I integrate this sense of disconnection from the people in my past into my life? My faith? My understanding of who God is? It would be easy, perhaps too easy, for me to immediately go to a conviction that God is capable of consistent, unconditional love, but people aren't. But I find myself shying away from an old habit of projecting my unfulfilled longings and wishes onto God in a way that makes God just the idealization of humanity.

Given what I've been through in the past few years, I can't imagine doubting the constancy of love. The problem, I think, though, is that I've located love within those who do the loving. I've found myself wondering this week if love is something that exists independent of the people we know who love. Maybe it is a force in the world that we open ourselves to and become vessels through which it can flow both to ourselves and to others, but which can also become blocked from time to time. If that is true, my experience of never really experiencing a constant accepting love from any one person doesn't have to lead me to the conclusion constant love does not exist. The truth is, though no one person has offered that kind of love, there hasn't been a day in my life when I didn't experience love. Though those who have loved me, and whom I have loved, have changed, love has remained constant. I can see that only when I separate it out from the individual people in my life.

And if that is true, then maybe that force I call love that exists independent of us is really God. The one great principle of Christian scriptures which I have clung to, particularly in all the shifts and doubts in my own faith, is that God is love. In some ways that has been my creed, my only true statement of faith. And it is one I can honestly say fits with my experience. Deep conviction in its truth helps me accept impermanence as a reality of life, and to welcome the gifts it brings.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Impermanence: First reflection

I had a brush with my past yesterday that's left me in a reflective mood about the impermanent nature of relationships. I used to think that as long as I remained committed to a relationship, it would last a lifetime. Unfortunately, I've often mistaken stubborn refusal to give up to be the equivalent of commitment, but I think I've been cured of that. AM hooked me on that word commitment. I've gotten a good glimpse of what stubborn and commitment will do to a person when that commitment is in no way mutual or healthy.

I'm in a new city, have been for a year now. Most of my closest friends are people I've known for less than a year. Until a year or so ago, I still had contact with my best friend from first grade through my early adulthood, but when it came time to update her with my new contact info after I left AM, I never managed to get it done. It's been years since we had anything in common to talk about. She grew distant after she learned that I, a woman, became a pastor, and being the stubborn one, determined not to give up on the relationship, I maintained contact for years, hoping someday my "commitment" to our friendship might persuade her to accept me. It never happened and something glorious in my changing understanding of commitment after all the heartache with AM freed me to let that relationship go too.

It leaves me in an odd place though. With the exception of my family, I have no regular contact with anyone who has known me for more than 9 years. That's hard to admit. Though I have new ways of framing it, I still worry that it is a reflection, somehow, on my character (or lack thereof) that I haven't managed to remain close to anyone from my past. That sense of failure is heightened by the reality that I am not close to anyone in my family, for essentially the same reasons that I have no contact with any friends from the early part of my life. With a record like that, it's hard not to assume it's my responsibility.

But the gift of the past few days is a new opening to accept the impermanence of relationships, a willingness to lay down the judge's gavel and open myself to a more freeing way of looking at what's happened. It's brought a lot of things into question for me. I don't know that there are a lot of answers yet, but there's a new sense of grace, I guess, that seems to permeate the way I'm looking at what has for years felt like failure. Here are some of the questions and thoughts I'm left with:
  • Where have I learned to place such high value on permanence in relationships, to assume that commitment means sticking it out no matter what?
  • Accepting impermanence doesn't mean assuming relationships will end, I think. It seems to me that it is probably more a shift in orientation toward the nature of all relationships. It's a surrendering of control over the outcome and an acceptance that change in the relationship is inevitable. Sometimes the change strengthens the relationship, deepens it. Sometimes it leads to separation. Sometimes it just means the relationship is different.
  • If impermanence is accepted as a reality and embraced as something to be valued, rather than dreaded or feared, how, then, does my understanding of important theological categories like reconciliation and unconditional love shift?
  • My experience is leaving me with the question, is there a love that remains constant through all those changes? I have some relationships that I've maintained throughout my lifetime, but I would hardly say they're characterized by unconditional love, a love that is constant, unwavering, that is able to accept me for me who I am.
  • And, ultimately, I guess I wonder if I'm capable of loving and accepting in a way that I long to be loved and accepted myself.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Slowing down

Do you know the feeling you get when you drive fast on the highway for a long period of time and then stop and get out of the car, but you still feel like you're moving? If I remember correctly, my driver's ed teacher gave that feeling a name, "velocitized." He named it because he believed that the feeling of moving at a faster pace is what leads people to get tickets. The fast pace feels normal, so it's hard to slow down in a speed zone. There's a temptation to keep pushing on the gas pedal to get back up to the speed that feels "normal."

I feel like that after suddenly slowing down from a busy pace between work and church. I'm caught between feeling like I'm still moving at a high speed and wanting to look for things to do so I can keep moving. It's hard to focus. My thoughts are all over the place. And slowing down is making me aware of some things I've neglected because they needed quiet, alone time to give thought to them, but the temptation to rush out and find something to do so I don't have to think about them is pretty high. It isn't that they are necessarily painful and difficult to face. Honestly, they aren't. It's just hard to slow down and shift gears to focus on something that requires a slower pace.

I've been trying to focus on a post about touch and the difficulty we have in this culture with negotiating what's appropriate and what isn't, while deeply craving it from those we love. Re-reading that sentence, I'm struck by how much more powerful it would be if I went back and rewrote it in first person. When I say "we," I mean "I," but that feels pretty raw and it's hard to slow down enough to be that vulnerable right now. I suspect that's why I can't get the damn thing written.

I've also been thinking a lot about relationships and how hard they are to maintain for the long haul. It amazes me that we ever really understand each other and connect. I'm struck by how easy it is to let things get in the way, to move away from doing those things which nurture the connection with others and slip into ways of interacting that seem on the surface to provide a sense of connection, but really only mirror it in less than authentic ways. I used to think that being vulnerable with people I don't know or barely know was the hardest thing. I've decided that it's really much harder at times to be vulnerable with the people I know the best. And I've decided that it's really a matter of faith, or lack of it, actually that results in that difficulty. It doesn't require much faith to be vulnerable with someone you barely know. There isn't anything to lose. Yet, the surest way to lose those we love is to shy away from vulnerability. Oy. I marvel that we ever get this relationship stuff right.

Ah, I know this is grief talking. The pace since things with L. went south has been fast enough and we've maintained enough contact that I haven't really let myself go there. She's out of the country on vacation, and things are slow, so I can actually pay attention to it now. It's a good thing to do, but frankly, I'm ready to get the relationship thing right at some point in my lifetime.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Studies in language

Two days. Two scenes. Two moments captured in a single phrase...

Day 1: Scene 1:

I visited with a prospective student who came in with chewing tobacco in his lip.

Oh, yes. He did.

He is finishing a bachelor's degree and wanted to know if he used the university's exchange agreement with us to take a class at the seminary in the fall, would it also count toward his master's degree when he begins study with us. To which I said, "Oh, no. We don't allow double-dipping."

Oh, yes. I did.

Day 2: Scene 2:

While in chapel we sang a hymn this morning, the words to which were printed on the order of service so that we didn't need hymnals. Most of the hymn was lost on me when my mind stuck with an accidental phrase, a reference to "heeling love." I laughed at first, imagining love like a loyal, obedient dog. But then I was moved. What a marvelous image to picture love's step-for-step, constant presence, always keeping pace however fast or slow I might move.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Not dead

I'm alive, and well, though busier than usual. Between work and church, I've managed to occupy most of my evenings for the past few weeks.

I had a conversation with the boss today that I hope will help me free up some time to work regularly on my dissertation. I negotiated a later work day so that I can spend 30 to 60 minutes each morning writing. The regular writing will help keep me moving, while larger blocks of time on free evenings and weekends will help me get bigger pieces done. The key for me is regular daily writing. I can't rely on using a big block of time here and there. It needs to become a habit. Attaching the writing time to my morning routine which I live by religiously should help with that, I hope.

I am working on a post about some things that have occupied my thoughts lately. I hope to have it up in a few days. Until then, I hope you all are well.