Sunday, March 23, 2008

Kite flying on Easter afternoon

I had decided I had too much to do today to keep this week from being completely crazy to accept an invitation to dinner I'd been given yesterday. A phone call after church from a friend going to the same dinner brought me to my senses and convinced me I could take the afternoon off and go out into the country for an Easter gathering.

My mind is full. I was given a great gift at the end of this week, the unqualified acceptance of my former boss, the one who recruited me to seminary 20 years ago, the one who launched me on my career in seminary administration. He enjoyed a great deal of renown in the Southern Baptist Convention years ago. He's since surrendered his ordination and is teaching religion courses at a state school here in my current state. Next fall he will teach a course for us at the seminary.

The closer association necessitated my coming out to him much sooner than later. I felt enough urgency in telling him to ensure he heard it from me that I opted to e-mail him, rather than wait until we got together. His response was quick and gracious. We'll be getting together on Friday to talk some more. There's much to catch up on. I've yet to find words to articulate what this means to me. I'm not sure I really even know what it means yet, but it's not for lack of trying to figure it out. I've longed for an accepting connection to my past. I'd honestly given up hope I'd ever find one.

There are other things occupying my attention as well. My Lenten discipline opened me to things I hadn't expected this year. Once I decided to give up the questions of adequacy to see how my relationship to what I've dreamed of doing for years changed, it was amazing how clearly I saw what I want to do once those questions were taken out of the picture. It hasn't been easy. I've had to face some truths about my self that haven't been easy to swallow. I've had to accept that I have been a greater hindrance to my own achievement than I've been willing to admit in the past. The amazing thing, though, is once that admission is made, it's hard to support staying stuck in that place. And, indeed, there's been much that's happened to rouse me from that place of complacency and inaction. I've quit trying to make sense of it in any sort of logical way, but it has felt like the messages at church lately have been in lock step with where my own heart has taken me.

I'm applying to enter the credentialing process with the Unitarian Universalist Association, a process that will eventually lead to ordination. Though I've seen what I want clearly, I do still feel inadequate to the task, more than I ever have before, with a lot of new reasons to feel that way. I guess what I've learned this Lent is that I can move ahead anyway.

I had laundry to do today, and housecleaning, and I thought journaling about this morning's sermon and how it affected me seemed like the most important things to get done. I feel a sense of urgency about what lies ahead. Instead, I spent a portion of my afternoon flying a kite with an eight-year-old, learning from him the ways to keep it in the air as the wind shifts and changes. In the time we spent, I learned about a bully in his class who thinks he's going to hell. I heard about his teacher's new baby, a girl, and the legends about people who live in the area around him. He told me what he misses from the city he left behind when his family moved out into the country several months ago. He offered me his jacket when the wind nearly succeeded in chasing me back inside. And I shared in his joy over "the best gift ever," kite string on a spool with handles that help him reel it in quickly and keep it under control more easily.

I feel like my spirit is emerging from a dark place, beginning to take flight, pushing toward the sun, riding on the currents of a cool spring wind.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Is it me?

You know, last week, I sort of just laughed off the whole flat tire, cat sick, mom in the hospital, rental car guy locks the keys in the car with the engine running gaff. Really, it was so ridiculous, who couldn't laugh.

So yesterday, I took the car in for some repairs. There was a horrid belt screeching noise that started late last week, so as soon as I was able to go without the car for a day, I took it in. No problem. My fabulous mechanic found the problem, but had to wait for a part, so he kept it over night.

Today, I worked from home since I didn't have a way to get to work. I didn't mind. I like working from home. It's nice to have PPBob keep me company.

So the mechanic calls to tell me it's ready, and I arrange a way to get there, and as soon as I'm out of the vehicle and my ride is gone, I notice that the driver's license and ATM card that I put in my pocket was GONE! Panic insued. Immediately.

My very, very gracious mechanic handed me my car key and sent me home to find a means for paying him. I returned and did just that. I looked around all of the places where I had been between the apartment and the mechanic's shop, and didn't find anything. When I returned home, I checked my account to see if there'd been any unauthorized activity. There had not.

I went to dinner with friends, who took pity on my pitiful self, as they have each time I've had one of these "experiences," and then went to their place to watch a movie.

When I got home, I checked e-mail. There was an alert from the bank. I checked my account. It appears whoever "found" my card loves movies. Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, twice. Kwik-i-Mart, Walgreens, and some other ridiculous the tune of nearly $180. Fortunately, he/she got nowhere at Walmart; the fraud protection person I spoke to at the bank said he/she attempted to use it there but was declined, probably because he/she didn't know the pin.

They've canceled the card. I'll be able to have the money for the charges returned as soon as they officially post to the account, and I can get a temporary ATM card at the bank tomorrow. I'll have to get a replacement license as well, and I'm guessing in the grand scheme of things this will amount to little more than a couple hours of my time and a lot of annoyance.

But I have to tell you, I'm ready to call "uncle."

Anyone have a good cleansing ritual? It's time to clear the negative energy around me. My friends are going to run when they see me coming!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Unusual foray into political commentary

My cynicism reared its ugly head yesterday. I avoided listening to Obama's speech until this evening. I'll admit I was afraid to listen to it. I've come to appreciate Obama's leadership and call for change, but I was afraid that the controversy surrounding the quotes from pastor Jeremiah Wright's sermons would push Obama take the business-as-usual, pansy-assed approach of distancing himself from controversy in the name of political expediency that dominates the world of politics today. I wanted to believe that he would offer something different, but my cynicism honestly expected that he wouldn't.

I just finished watching the speech. While I'm not normally given to tears by speeches from politicians, I'll acknowledge a lump in my throat by the end of this one. To my utter amazement, he forcefully disagreed with the statements that have been played over and over again, denounced the shallow sound bite analysis of relationships and issues, beautifully named his dilemma and the nation's real struggle with racism, AND stood by a man who has obviously had a powerful influence on him. That is exactly the kind of change in leadership I think is necessary to move this country in a different direction.

I don't agree with Obama entirely. His strong denouncement of Dr. Wright's statements was too forceful in my opinion. I'm not offended by what the pastor said. I think he was making some important points. I also understand that preaching good news in a prophetic manner sometimes requires saying things that make people uncomfortable. I would not consider myself a follower of Jesus Christ if that were not the case. I have no doubt that Dr. Wright has said things with which I would disagree. I've never met a preacher who didn't. I might also choose to say some of the same things in a different way, but I have never ministered in a context like his, nor have I ever had the guts to speak as prophetically as he, often to my own shame.

A few years back, Jeremiah Wright preached at my PhD school, Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University. I did not attend. I was in the dungeon of PhD coursework at the time, trying to keep my head above water and believing that I didn't really have the time to go to any of the events during that week's conference. I regret that I didn't hear him. The reports I received from fellow students afterward were glowing, full of rave reviews and deep appreciation for the messages he brought. In recent months, the Black Church Studies Program at Brite selected Dr. Wright to be the recipient of an award in honor of the contributions he's made in the course of his ministry. The award will be given at a banquet at the end of next week.

In the past few days, Brite has received numerous phone calls and e-mail criticizing the seminary for honoring Dr. Wright. Some of the messages have expressed hatred and bigotry in shockingly candid language and tone. The seminary's administration has taken the courageous step of affirming the decision to grant the award and has posted a statement on the website further honoring Dr. Wright's accomplishments. I have not always had positive things to say about my PhD school, but their handling of this situation has deepened my sense of pride in having studied there.

I understand why Obama used such forceful language to distance himself from the ideas expressed. I'll even admit that I think doing so demonstrated his ability to be leader for all of the people in this country and to help us move toward healing the pain and suffering of racism. Nothing has made that more clear to me than the angry response leveled at Brite. The pain is deep, and the solutions will not be easy. It is a deeply complex problem that requires both the prophetic word of ministers like Jeremiah Wright to rouse us from our numbness and indifference and the authentic conviction and courageous diplomacy of a leader like Barack Obama to help us see a way forward.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Missing my normal life

My usual routine has been badly interrupted the past six weeks. I've been gone more than I've been home, and when I've been home, I've been sick most of that time.

I miss blogging things that are more than stream of consciousness and reports on my boring life.
I miss eating decent food.
I miss running.
I miss my friends.
I miss the day-to-day interactions with people at work.
I miss morning wake-ups from PPBob.
I miss regular journaling and meditation.
I miss evenings at home, reading and writing in an unhurried fashion.

I got home last night and had a normal day in the office today. But my usual routine feels foreign to me now. I sat at work a little while ago dreading going home to an empty house while simultaneously dreaming of nothing more. It's weird, I tell you!

Friday, March 14, 2008


Mom's fine. After a wild round of "where's she going?," she ended up in rehab in her town, like we'd planned originally, but not without considerable string-pulling to make it happen. The flu has all of the hospitals around that area full!

PPBob is also home and feeling better, though very tired from the harrowing experience of spending two days at the vet's. We have a new vet at the clinic whom I love! PPBob has a different opinion, but she's not paying the woman.

I changed the flat tire this morning and got two new tires this afternoon. I'm feeling rather pleased with myself for doing that without much effort! I will tell you, though, I'm very, very glad that I was on a neighborhood road when it happened. I couldn't tell until I got the wheel off, but the tire blew. Seriously blew! It could not have happened in a better spot at a better time. I'm grateful I wasn't on the turnpike.

I'm about as tired as a person can be. I slept 2.5 hours this afternoon and can barely keep my eyes open tonight. But, tomorrow I go to the farm! Woo Hoo!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Free association from the vortex of anxiety

If you've been missing any anxiety the past few days, I know where it went. My mom and my brother sucked it all out of the universe on Monday. Fortunately, I think they're giving it back.

My mom had a knee replacement on Monday. She's doing well. She's already walking around, mostly with a walker, but some without. I had no idea she would be doing so well at this point. Unfortunately, the rehab unit they were to transfer her to tomorrow is not accepting transfers because the flu has the hospital at capacity and they are short-staffed. We're waiting to hear what alternatives to the original plan there might be.

My oldest brother and sister-in-law were here until yesterday evening. I haven't spent that much time around them in a long time. I've had some revelations about family that are helpful. I'm waiting to find a good metaphor to describe what I'm seeing now. When I do, I'll write about it.

The hospital where my mom is staying is in a larger town between her town and my city, though a good bit closer to her town. I needed a night at home last night, so I drove a little further and slept in my own bed. I arrived home to find a sick cat. She hadn't eaten much and there were no "packages" in the litter box after two days. I left with her tow to take her to the vet this morning, before I headed back to see my mom. On the way to the vet, I heard a noise from the rear of the car that kept getting louder, until there was a good "thump, thump, thump," and a wobbly drive. A flat tire. When the loud thump occurred, PPBob screamed really loud and raced to the front of her cat carrier, effectively pitching it forward off the passenger seat into the floor board of the car. I was just two or three blocks from some friends' house, so I drove on there and got one of them to take me to the vet and to a car rental place. There were no cars at my usual place, so I called another, made a reservation, and learned that it would be an hour and a half before the car would ready, so she took me to her home and I waited for the car rental people to pick me up. After the agent checked me in, he took me out to the car to check mileage and fuel level. He opened the door, leaned in to turn it on, checked the mileage, then closed the door. It locked. With the keys inside and the engine running. He checked me into another car.

Fortunately, that string of events seems to have burned off all of the excess anxiety, so this afternoon has been good. Mom's more well-rested and I've gotten some work done.

Hospital stays require a lot of ridiculous questions, like "How do you feel today?" Necessary, I know, but it often seems the answer is obvious. The most ridiculous one I've heard this time, though, came from a person in anesthesia. She came in to check on my mom yesterday, stepped just inside the door, introduced herself, and with clipboard and pen in hand asked, "So how was your anesthesia?" Doesn't it seem highly likely that the person asking the question is in a much better position to answer that question than the person she's asking? I mean, by it's very nature, anesthesia, if done right, is meant to be forgotten.

I have a couple of opening lines for blog posts about things that inspired me the past few days. I hope to get to those posts soon.

Hope all is well in your world.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The good, the bad, the ugly

Good: Very good, actually! I made a drum today. It was a fabulous experience. The strings need to be tightened a bit more, so I left it with the person who led the workshop and will get it in a few days. I'll post a picture when I get it back.

The process started with the selection of the wooden drum itself. Then, I wrapped cloth and tied knots around three rings that would be used to hold the drum head in place. All of that was done last night. This morning, I decorated the drum with pictures of the red-winged blackbird totem I posted last year and put a nice lacquer finish on it.

After the goat skin head was thoroughly soaked in water and softened, I began the arduous task of string the drum through the knots on the rings. It took a long time, but I managed to get mine tight enough, pulling with all the strength I had, that it's almost ready to go. The workshop leader will tighten it a little bit more with a special tool he uses, and I'll be good to go.

Someone please warn my neighbors that I intend to practice. A lot.

Bad: I hate to admit it, but I've gained weight over the past few weeks since I was sick and have been traveling. I haven't been running regularly since December. That really needs to change soon.

Oh, and daylight savings time is bad. I hate changing the clock!

Ugly: Watch the following video for the ugly... The audio is from a state representative here. No further explanation should be required.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Lots of travel this week, which seems to make my thoughts disjointed and hampers my efforts to write coherent narrative. There's a lot going on in my world though.

Tomorrow is the last of several recruiting trips before I take a week off to be with my mom during and after her knee replacement surgery. It's been fruitful, but I'm tired of driving, eating out, and sleeping in hotels. Once I get back from my mom's, things will slow down slightly for me with the travel, well, until mid-May, when it becomes insanely busy.
I bought some vanilla soy milk a few days ago. I've used it in my coffee in the mornings, which isn't bad, but I just had my first glass of it. Bleck! It tastes like Kaopectate! Chocolate soy milk is fine, but it doesn't work for cereal or coffee.
Speaking of milk, goat's milk sure does taste good. My friends the farmers, the ones who have goats and make goat cheese and grow a lot of good food on their seven-acre sustainable farm, are on the cover of a local magazine. Nice picture of the two of them with a goat. Ahh... I e-mailed to congratulate them and found out, as of Monday, they have five baby goats, and one of the sheep gave birth to triplets. That's a lot of babies! There will be more.
I've been intrigued by a blank on an application I'm filling out for this thing I'm doing. It's not the typical "Check the box that best describes your racial/ethnic identity." Instead, it says, "(Optional) Please describe your cultural, racial or ethnic background" and then there are four lines on the form on which to do it. That could be fun. :)
A friend sent an e-mail to four of us today asking if it was "tattoo time." The five of us have all been talking about getting tattoos, and yet, none of us has made a move in that direction. So, after church tonight we went tattoo shopping. It's my first time to be in a tattoo parlor. The two we visited tonight provided two very different experiences. The art work at the two places was quite different. The prices quoted were quite different. The artist I talked to at the second place made a copy of the piece I brought in and will do a sketch to show some of the modifications I asked about. He's going to give me a call when it's ready for me to see. He was way more helpful than the first guy, his art work seems better, his price was less than half what the other artist quoted, AND he encouraged me to shop around and check out a couple of other places.

I am excited about getting the tattoo. I thought I'd be freaked out when I finally started looking into it seriously. I never thought I'd be the kind of person who'd get a tattoo, but my friends, I believe I am.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Walking through an open door

For a couple of years (or more) now, I've been working at recovery from depression and other symptoms of some bad choices in my life. Many of the changes are pretty firmly established, though there are times when I have to remind myself to do what I know works and helps. During that time, I've searched for and worked at understanding what needed to change to keep from making the same mistakes again. And, with a lot of help from good people in my life, I've been successful.

For a long time I've been afraid, unable even, to think of what my life might look like in 10 or 15 years. I won't say it's easy now. As little as six months ago, when asked that question, I was completely stumped. I couldn't imagine my life 10 years from now. I wasn't ready to accept that I had responsibility for deciding more of my future than a few days or weeks at a time. I think that's pretty normal for someone who is grieving. I've often suggested to those I've worked with who were grieving not to look any farther ahead than they could cope with, even if the most future they could tolerate was five minutes. When the future for which we've hoped is shut down by some loss, it can be painful to imagine how we'll manage a different future. In times like those, it's easier to imagine a future two days from now than it is to imagine two years from now. We can imagine making it two days, but not two years.

As the work of grief is done, the future begins to open up again, allowing new ways of thinking and dreaming to emerge. I am sensing that in my self now.

Something shifted inside me while I sat on a beach in Oregon last week. The sun had set, but there was still light in the sky. The fog was moving inland, lowering the sky. Looking out at the surf, it was hard to tell where the ocean ended and the sky began. The whiteness of the churning surf blended beautifully with the swirling clouds of fog blowing in to shore.

I sat on the beach, legs crossed, shoulders relaxed and back straight. My arms rested on my legs. I steadied my gaze on a rock just past the shoreline. I let my thoughts wander, not allowing my mind to attach to any one of them. As the last light of the day faded, it felt as though the sky was closing in around me. The rhythmic crashing of the waves on the shoreline was my mantra, a way of bringing myself back into the moment. It was uncomfortable sitting there while the light faded. I felt some fear emerge. I wanted to stand up and walk or leave. I wanted to control the moment by heightening my attention to the surroundings around me instead of trusting that I would be alright. I continued on past the discomfort and for a brief time felt my self slowly blend into the landscape around me. It was a powerful experience, though it lasted for a short time.

I got back in the car and headed back to Portland, but I continued to reflect on the experience. The question of what I want to be doing in 10 years kept popping up. I felt the same discomfort at first thought of the question that I did when I was sitting on the beach meditating, so I sat with the discomfort and breathed my way through it, instead of escaping to another question or thought that was less uncomfortable. On the other side of the discomfort was a greater sense of agency and hope. For the first time in a long time, I felt ready to take responsibility for a longer view of my future.

As I felt that, it became more obvious to me what some of the blocks have been, some of it views on middle age and what a responsible person my age or a person 10 years older than me should be doing, some of it regret and shame about what I've failed to achieve in the last 10 years of my life.

On the return flight, I read Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea. Some friends gave it to me after they read it a few weeks ago. In the book, Lindbergh uses the metaphor of a shell to reflect on the different stages of her life. She imagines her life as a series of shells lined up, each stage represented by a different kind of shell. Her reflection on transitioning into middle age named beautifully for me what I think has been trying to take shape in me for some time now:

We Americans, with our terrific emphasis on youth, action and material success, certainly tend to belittle the afternoon of life (her term for the period from forty or fifty on) and even to pretend it never comes. We push the clock back and try to prolong the morning , overreaching and overstraining ourselves in unnatural efforts....In our breathless attempts we often miss the flowering that waits for afternoon.

For is it not possible that middle age can be looked upon as a period of second flowering, second growth, even a kind of second adolescence? It is true that society in general does not help one accept this interpretation of the second half of life. And therefore this period of expanding is often tragically misunderstood. Many people never climb above the plateau of forty-to-fifty. The signs that presage growth, so similar, it seems to me, to those in early adolescence: discontent, restlessness, doubt, despair, longing, are interpreted falsely as signs of decay. In youth one does not as often misinterpret the signs; one accepts them, quite rightly, as growing pains. One takes them seriously, listens to them, follows where they lead. One is afraid. Naturally. Who is not afraid of pure space--that breath-taking empty space of an open door? But despite fear, one goes through to the room beyond.

My life has not followed a typical pattern. What precipitates the sense of emptiness for me is different than it is for those who marry and have children and watch them grow up and move away from home, the events that prompted Lindbergh's reflection. The sense of urgency is no less intense, and the feelings of discontent, restlessness, doubt, despair, and longing that she names are every bit as real for me. I don't look on the next 10 years of my life in the same way I saw 30 from the vantage point of my 20-something self. I am more deeply aware of limits, but the future is still wide open. Maybe in accepting the limits, I gain a greater sense of responsibility for the choices made about the future. The choices can be safe, or they can be risky. Maybe what happens when I look at the future now is a deeper awareness of the great temptation to choose what's safe.

The path I choose to take to reach the place I want to be in 10 years is going to require a lot of uphill climbing. The fear that's led to inaction, that's kept me in the place of not-quite-a-minister, not-quite-a-clinician, not-quite-a-PhD, not-quite-in-a-relationship means taking steps in middle age that I had the opportunity to take when I was younger. It will be harder now, because I'm aware of the time lost. Shame litters the path creating barriers that I must climb over. The difference now is that I recognize the hard work ahead AND I believe it's possible to do it.

I don't know why I've fallen into the trap of thinking life is nearly over, though I do recognize that culture's voice has likely played a large part in convincing me it is. Or, maybe it has something to do with the fact that with this last birthday, I'm now officially older than my dad was when he died. Life isn't over. A stage in my life is done, but there's much more that lies ahead. My life will not be my father's life. My life will not be my mother's either. It will be my life, and in saying that, I am making the commitment I know is necessary to take responsibility for those choices that will make it my own life.

May it be so.