Tuesday, September 08, 2015


Labor Day weekend has come and gone. It's as if the whole island has exhaled as the energy of summer starts to disappate with friends leaving for their winter homes, school starting, and businesses shifting to fall hours. There suddenly seems to be more space available in the lives of those who live here year-round. The ferry holds a higher percentage of familiar faces. Life seems to be settling from its frantic summer pace into a more sustainable pace.

Of course, these are my conjectures, not having lived here during the fall or winter yet. Perhaps it's because I personally feel more settled on the island. Perhaps it's because I've made a few more connections with people and orginizations these past couple weeks. Perhaps it's because I have the fall more or less planned out through Advent and Epiphany Plus with worship and group studies (even if content creation isn't quite finished...thank you Marica McFee and the Worship Design Studio workshop!) Perhaps it's because I'm not quite as tired as I was during the first trimester of my pregnancy.

Whatever the reason, everything suddenly doesn't feel as overwhelming as it did before. For that, I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Island Living

We are living on an island.

To say that it has been an adjustment would be a bit of an understatement....the least of these being the nearly irresistible urge to start belting Lonely Island's "I'm On A Boat" every time I take the ferry. (Just to warn you, the video is completely NSFW).

In all seriousness, I've discovered that life runs by the ferry schedule. Island wisdom dictates that "there is always another ferry" so if you happen to miss one, it's best to have a list of errands you can get done before the next boat. However, it does restrict what you can do on the mainland. No more late night movies unless you have a friend willing to let you crash on their couch. Lunch dates end with "Oh crap, I have to catch the boat" and a mad dash up I-295, ending with running from the parking lot with a huge pack of toilet paper in your arms (because, of course, batching errands is important) and sliding into a seat right before the engines engage. (No...that situation was completely hypothetical...really...)

This means planning has become a lot more important - because emergency ice cream isn't always available at 7 PM from the grocery store (not unless you want to drag yourself to the Yarmouth Hannaford on the 8 PM boat and not get home until 9:45 at night). Fortunately, I haven't hit the pregnancy cravings...yet. We did buy some frozen pizzas and dumplings from Trader Joe's just in case though. Buying in bulk has become a life-saver, as has Amazon Prime (thank you dog food deliveries...because I really don't want to be lugging a 30 lb bag on the ferry...although with your recent reports about your company, I sadly may have to reconsider our Prime membership). Fortuntely, we do live in the kind of place where, if you run out of sugar, you can, in fact, borrow a cup from a neighbor (which we did earlier this summer).

I'm still figuring a lot of stuff out. Moving here in the middle of the summer was a bit like drinking from the firehose of people, places, events, faces, names, and connections (oh, *you're* so-and-so's daughter, married to another-so-and-so's son...and are you here year round or for the summer?). Add starting a new job to settling in to a completely different way of life (not to mention the minutiae of moving to another state) to being in the middle of huge life changes and...yeah. Life's been intense this summer. Good, but intense. Things start to quiet down around Labor Day, and then again around Colombus Day, as I am told. I'm looking forward to getting more settled in the fall.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

A Vacation of a Lifetime

"It's the first adult vacation we've ever taken together!"

It dawned on me a few times after we had said it that this sentence might be misconstrued to mean something other than what we had intended.  Granted,  we'd always elaborate, saying that it's the first time we've ever really vacationed anywhere that wasn't either visiting relatives or owned by relatives or relatively near relatives.

Calling this a "grown up"  vacation doesn't really fit either, even though we've certainly consumed enough "grown up"  beverages for it to qualify.

This is our first time out of the country together,  discovering a new place together, really travelling together and we've kinda joked around saying it is our second honeymoon. This August will be eight years married for us.  Ten years together.  Almost fourteen years since we first met and became friends. So -  I think the terminology fits,  especially since we are unlikely to get another vacation in like this for a long time.

So far,  it's been pretty awesome. We've both felt the need to unwind and relax,  which has basically translated to two full days on the beach and evenings out on the terrace in the hammock.  Today we didn't even venture in to town (which is about a 25 minute walk along the beach).  I can't remember when I've had no responsibilities beyond whether I should swim before or after lunch.

Tomorrow we're hoping to be a bit more active and venture in to Puerto Viejo for some shopping and cheap empanadas.

One thing that is on the shopping list?  A hammock.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Things I Will Miss About Haverhill

We closed yesterday. It's a bit surreal and it hasn't quite hit me, even with the large check in hand and fewer keys on the keychain. We were saying goodbye to various places as we were driving by on our way to the closing. Here is a list of a few of the things I will miss (aside from the many friends in Haverhill):

- Running in Winnekenni Park (well, maybe I won't miss the running part as much...I will miss Winnekenni)
- Our neighborhood (which was pretty awesome in many ways - beautiful houses, easy walking distance to the downtown, good neighbors)
- The Love/Hate relationship I have with Market Basket (maybe not)
- Seeing the American Dog by Exit 48 on I-495 S done by the amazing Dale Rogers Studio so frequently
- The amazing restaurants downtown and in Bradford (Wicked Big, the Artist Cafe, Keon's, Lakeview Kitchen, the Barking Dog, to name a few)
- being a part of so many great community organizations
- All the places to get Roast Beef
- Walking Downtown
- The Farmer's Market
- The River and Classical New England (thank goodness for streaming)
- Massachusetts Politics (especially given LePage's current ravings) and Affordable Health Insurance (we'll see about this last one?)

Anyway - thanks for the past 7 years, Haverhill. Before I moved there, you were just 5 exits off of 495. I'm glad I learned that you are so much more.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Goodbye to Haverhill

It's hard to believe that our time in Haverhill is coming to a close. When we move at the end of May, we will have lived in this city for almost 7 years. There are parts of this community that have shaped me in ways that I am grateful for - especially the relationships and connections between so many people who were about making this city a better place. I've learned a lot about leadership, investment in place, community organizing and civic engagement from my time here.

On a more personal level, the friendships and spirit of this place I know I will carry with me. Haverhill is a city that is slowly remaking itself and breaking away from the negative reputation it has been given. Out of its glorious, industrial past through a period of difficult times, a greener, more creative, vibrant and thriving city is emerging. I'm grateful to have been a part of many organizations helping to make that future happen.

Over the next few weeks we'll be saying goodbye to this city that has been home for this season of our life. Since leaving my hometown, it's been the place where I have lived the longest and have learned what it means to begin to set down roots in a place and begin to truly "know" a community. It was here in Haverhill that I came to fully appreciate the value of locally grown food and getting to know those who grew it. I've come to love local business and being able to walk down the street and greet my neighbors. I enjoy going to the grocery store and running into people I know.

So thank you, Haverhill, for all that you have given me for these past 7 years. It's been a good run. You are full of good people doing good things, and I know that you will thrive. Thank you for letting me and Ben be a part of your story for a time - and here's wishing you all the best on all the exciting things to come.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

New Rhythms of Life

(Note: this post originally appeared in Ben's monthly newsletter. If you haven't subscribed yet, head on over to his website and do so! The version I'm posting here is slightly expanded from the original article). 

For the past few months (since October, really, when our ministry with The Vine ended), I have been working as a barista/cashier/bookkeeper/whatever-they-need-me-to-do-staff-person at a local specialty food shop. The work has been a nice change of pace on the whole; the hardest part was transitioning from setting my own schedule to working every day from 11:30 AM to close. (The other fun change transition was one from being sedentary to being on my feet all day. I eventually adjusted to running around the store: from the counter to the kitchen with orders, empty baskets, coffee urns, and dishes.)

Now I find myself at the end of this six month adventure, getting ready to move back into professional ministry and its own rhythm of life (goodbye lazy Sunday mornings!) as the pastor of the Chebeague Island United Methodist Church (more reflections on this exciting news to come later!). There are a few learnings that I am planning on taking with me from this employment experience:

  1. Weekends are awesome, and everyone needs two days off. Sundays and Mondays were my “weekend” days where I didn’t have to be at work. One of the biggest pieces of customer feedback was “you should be open on Sundays!” to which we’d respond “we need weekends too!” So, as I head back into the ministry, there will be two days off. Consecutive days off.
  2. Scheduled time. I know that ministry blurs the line between “life” and “work” and there will be times when I’ll have to negotiate that boundary. Scheduled time for “work” (sermon prep, Bible study, administration, worship planning, visitation, etc) allows me to be more focused and productive, and then when I’m “off” I don’t have to feel guilty for not doing “work”.
  3. Mastering small talk and taking conversational risks with people. I am an introvert (Ben and I disagree on this sometimes). This job forces you (in a good way) to talk and interact with a lot of people all day - and sometimes meaningful conversations arise. It’s been great to be able to realize that talking with strangers can be lots of fun.
  4. Being more active! I definitely don’t want to be sitting at my desk all day in front of a computer as I prep. Taking walks around the island with the dogs and running more are two things I’m looking forward to. I’ll have to be really intentional here so I don’t slip back into old patterns.
  5. Good food. Oh. My. Goodness. Being surrounded by good food every day was such a gift. My usual lunch at work was a bowl of soup and I found that that was enough to get me through until dinnertime. It was so delicious (and most of them on the healthier side). It really made me value sitting down and appreciating the food in front of me and savoring every bite. (And, to be sure, I'll be stocking up on the Chinese dumplings they sell).

I start July 1st. I’m excited to see where this journey takes me as a pastor (and Ben as a pastor’s husband!)

Saturday, January 03, 2015

2015 - The Year of Less Stuff

I wouldn't say that I'm a hoarder (probably most hoarders wouldn't say that they are hoarders either). Really, I'm not --you don't have to wade through piles of old magazines to get into the kitchen, or shove mountains of clothes to sit on the couch. My office floor is visible and I have open spaces on my desk.

I just have an emotional attachment to my stuff.

For most everything I own, I can remember (1) who gave it to me, and (2) where it comes from. To entertain the notion of giving things away makes me feel like I am offending the person who originally owned this item and that it somehow belittles the relationship we have to even think about removing it from my possession.

Or, for the items of mine that aren't so sentimental, I have this "I can/will use this someday" attitude that is not really based in reality. Magazines will somehow magically become collages, yarn will one day become comfy afghans, candles will be burned and bookmarks will be used. (Note, I never, ever use bookmarks.  I generally remember the page number of the books I am in the middle of).

During the first half of this year, Ben and I are going through the house and down-sizing. There are a variety of reasons for this, but the biggest one is that we have way. too. much. stuff. There's just so much that we've moved from apartment to house to house that has never gotten unpacked. There are books we will never read again, or games that will never be played again (there are so many games that are way better than Monopoly), or papers that we'll never need again (honestly, notes from a meeting taken 5 years ago from a church that no longer exists can hardly be that important).

So thus begins the year of detaching myself from stuff. I will work through this idea that getting rid of the knick-knacks received over the years doesn't diminish any relationships or my memories I have of the people who gave them to me. I'll have a cleaner office and a less cluttered house. I'll have a few extra bucks for the date jar from all the stuff we sell. And I'll probably be a more healthy person at the end of it all.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Old Habits Die Hard

Since The Vine's ministry ended in October, some of you have wondered what we've been up to.

The same week we held our final worship service, I started working more regular hours at Lakeview Kitchen, a specialty grocery store that offers delicious paninis, soups, baked goods, chocolates and everything that is wonderful about food. I have joined the ranks of those who are on a regular work schedule - Tuesday through Saturday, 11:30 AM to close.

I enjoy what I do. I get to talk to customers, advise them (to the best of my limited knowledge) on purchases, make lattes, stock shelves, assist with record-keeping, take orders, and generally be hospitable and helpful. Connecting with people is great. In some ways, it's not too different about certain aspects of our ministry in Haverhill, except my interactions with people are (1) way more limited and (2) very fleeting. But I feel like if my conversation or interaction with someone can, in some small way, make their day better, then I've done my job well. Even on difficult days, I have a sense that if the people who visited the store had a positive experience, then it's all worth it. I enjoy my coworkers, my bosses are great; it's a lovely place to work.

Plus - everything in this store is delicious. I'm surprised that I haven't gained weight working here because literally, I am surrounded by amazing chocolate, delectable cheeses, mouthwatering scones and cookies, and much, much more. I'm also surprised that I don't spend my whole paycheck every week on yummy things to eat! (Ben would probably not appreciate it if I did that...)

The challenging piece of all this hasn't been the work. Work has been easy. It's how everything else fits in that has been difficult. Over my time in Haverhill, I've accumulated several different community hats, many that fit authentically with what I enjoy doing with my time and energy and that also fit well within the framework of how I envisioned my ministry in the city. I've found myself having to choose and prioritize how I spend my time (something I'm not great at to begin with). Add this to the mix of still being so unsure of what comes next long-term, evaluating options, wrapping up loose Vine ends, being worried about the present and its demands, and it's pretty stressful. There hasn't been a lot of room for good self-care (I take whatever I can get, which usually ends up being mindlessly watching TV in the evenings when I am home and football marathons on Sundays).

Most of the time, I don't let myself think about it. I have so much on my plate and I know how to deal with being overwhelmed with multiple demands, so it doesn't bother me as much as it really should. Juggling is familiar. Overworking is familiar. Going in fifty thousand different directions is familiar.

I know this pace of life isn't sustainable. It hasn't really allowed me to process or grieve the loss of the Vine. It hasn't really allowed me to start preparing for whatever might be next for us. It hasn't really given me the space I need to listen to God's call and to think about who I am apart from this thing called pastoral ministry. (I've thought about all these things some, I just haven't been able to really reflect on it all). I keep telling myself that it's just for a season - just until after the holidays, just until January, just until the next vacation or whatever. In reality, though, I'm not sure I know how to live differently.

I'm in the process of transitioning out of a few things I'm involved with in the community - some sooner and some later. The challenge will be to rearrange my plate so that the important things get priority...and not to get back into bad habits.

There is grace in all this, somehwere. Grace is in having a wonderful, loving husband who patiently puts up with me rushing everywhere and running out the door five minutes behind schedule nearly every morning. Grace is having a supportive family who will listen when I'm having a stressful day. Grace is going for a morning walk with the doggies and seeing a beautiful sunrise (when I'm up that early). Grace is having an unexpected quiet evening at home, snuggling with the dogs and with Ben and having a Parks and Recreation marathon. Grace is dinner with friends. Grace is knowing that despite the crazy, busy, unsustainable pace of life -- it'll all work out in the end. Grace is knowing that life is good.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

You can lead a horse to water...

Ben's been writing a lot about his story and experience of The Vine over at godlovesthiscity.wordpress.com. I'm sure many of you that read this blog also read his, but if you haven't found your way there yet, I encourage you to take a look. The process (and especially some of the feedback he’s gotten) has helped me think a bit about my own journey and about the purpose of church and community.

One of the (many!) lessons this journey has taught me is that church is a place where people were being discipled so that they could go out and in turn make disciples of Jesus. I don't care how that disciple-making happens - if you make one or if you make 200, if you talk about your faith non-stop or if you just to live it...a disciple of Jesus makes other disciples of Jesus. Faith is not a consumer product, something to be plucked off the shelf at the WalMart of Life along with your other feel-good items for Good Living. Faith is a daily, lived out process of learning to follow Jesus and teaching others to do the same.

However, we often treat the church as a provider of religious goods and services and not as a place for disciple making. (Incidentally, it makes me laugh everytime I see the line “other than intangible religious benefits, no goods or services were provided in exchange for this donation” on giving statements from churches).

I think this is the most challenging concept for us in our culture to understand, and certainly one I think few in our churches understand. We’re used to evaluating our lives based on what gives us the most benefit - spending time on the things we value, spending money on what is important to us, connecting with the people who can give us the most in return. This kind of consumer thinking certainly played into my leadership (whether I was always aware of it or not). It feels good when people come to worship and get something out of what you have to offer. It’s great when you plan an event and everybody has a great time. It’s wonderful when people start financially supporting your ministry. But - that doesn’t necessarily mean you are making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Jesus doesn’t want your time or your money or your relationships or your programs or events. Jesus wants your life. All of it. Not in piecemeal chunks (as if we could make a monthly….or weekly...payment), but everything - in one down payment of 100%. For me, that means I have to carry myself in the world as Jesus did. When I look at the way Jesus lived and how Jesus taught, I see this kenotic, self-emptying life that looks nothing like the consumeristic lifestyle our culture eats, sleeps, and breathes.

If we’re really trying to follow Jesus as a disciple, I don’t think we can place value on Jesus or church on what benefit it is to us as individuals, but how it benefits our community and our world. When those who participate in the church are primarily in it for how it benefits them, you get a community of people looking inward to their own needs and wants. It forms a community that is dependent upon its leader for all its spiritual needs. Discipleship is viewed as spiritual self-help, something that helps me and my own.

However, if we think about following Jesus in terms of the impact on the world around us, discipleship is less about us and our needs and more about others. Discipleship becomes about learning and growing in the ways of Jesus so that we can be the hands and feet of Jesus to a world that needs to be reminded of the hope and redemption that waits for us all. Discipleship becomes about how we are the body of Christ, called to go out and disciple others. Following Jesus in community with others means that at some point, the discipler steps to the background and lets the disciples step up, trusting them with the vision and mission of being the church out in the world.

I've always felt like my role as a pastor was to put myself out of a job (not, incidentally, in the way that happened with The Vine.) As a leader, my role was to disciple and empower people to take ownership for living out their own discipleship (including how they were discipling others) as well as ownership to live out their own sense of vocation in ministering to others. I've seen some wonderful examples of this in church settings from faithful commitment to volunteering at a local thrift store to working for agencies that help the homeless to investment in personal relationships to people encouraging one another using The Artist's Way.

I celebrated when there was something going on in the church that I, as a pastor, did not plan. I gave thanks when the seed of an idea took root and I knew there were capable leaders in place. It was wonderful when there was something I started that I could hand over to someone waiting in the wings because it would be an opportunity for them to grow and learn in their leadership and discipleship.

To be sure, I didn’t do this perfectly - in my own discipleship or in my own leadership. Our community wasn’t perfect either; you will always have a mix of people with a variety of motivations for being there - and that’s OK. The church is imperfect because we are all imperfect people.

But I believe that as the church adapts to the changing culture, it needs to rediscover this principle of discipling others to make disciples. No longer can we stand out in the market square, offering our religious goods at a discount price, because there will always be something better out there. Instead, we need to be living like Jesus, engaging others like Jesus did, trusting that as we do so, our world will be transformed.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Photographic Ventures

If I'm honest with myself, I've been interested in photography for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, all four of us had fun taking pictures and putting them into albums and I would love to look through the old pictures of all of us as babies and of my parents when they were younger.

I have always wanted to take a photography class...but in high school I was too scared to take Art Fundamentals - the pre-requisite to the photography class offered. I figured that I couldn't draw and I didn't want to risk humiliation (and a potential crappy grade). Plus, I was (am) someone who compares her work to other and in the face of perceived lack of talent compared with the artistic gifts of some of my peers...well, as a teen the choice seemed obvious.

Same deal in college. Get through the 101 class to do anything interesting. Or test your luck with the JanPlan class that always filled up immediately when registration was open.

Here, there are community classes that are titled, "Get To Know Your Digital Camera." I feel like I'm a bit past that.

I plan on taking a class at some point, because I'd love to learn about composition and lighting and aperture and focal length and maybe even doing some fun dark room stuff. Just because I think it's cool.

I've had a few folks over the past few weeks share with me around my gifts in this area. I'm thankful for their encouragement and support and affirmation. I've never really thought about having a natural eye before. I'd love to hone it a bit.

In the meantime, I'm going to see if there is any interest in people actually doing anything with my images. I don't expect a huge sum of money (or even very much at all), but in this season, I feel like "why not? Let's see what happens."

So - visit me at http://instaprints.com/profiles/melissa-yosua-davis.html. Let me know if there's anything you like!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

In our end is our beginning...

"Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal." - John 12:24-25, The Message

I've been thinking about this scripture a lot lately. Tonight, we announced to our community that The Vine's ministry in Haverhill will be ending next month. There are a lot of reasons why this is the case: leadership capacity, financial, mistakes we've made, etc. I won't go into a full dissection of everything right now. We've been at this work of planting The Vine for 5 years and if it doesn't take, no amount of fertilizer, coaxing, singing or whatever is going to make it stand on its own. Hanging on to it  and forcing life into it would just destroy this beautiful vision of what church is and could be.

That isn't to say that there hasn't been fruit and that we haven't been church. I'm so glad that we're leaving behind a legacy of God's love and grace and that we have blessed people in our city we haven't even met. There have been parties and laughter and trash pickups and drum circles and tears and games and worship and prayer. Lives have been transformed. Neighborhoods have been cared about. People who have been forgotten have been remembered.

So even in the face of so much change and doubt and worry - I think about this passage. It's appropriate for this time of year when plants begin the transition into death and decay -- all the while spreading the hope of new life throughout the earth. I hope the same is true with The Vine; that even while we are in this time of letting go, the seeds of new life and new beginnings will be scattered, take root, and grow in ways that are beyond our imagination. We have to let it go, trusting that pieces will live on in the people we connected with and in the city we were blessed to love in this way.

But endings still suck, and we are all greiving and there is a lot of this that I am still getting used to. I have no idea what is next (jobs? anyone? What jobs can an M.Div get you?).  I trust that it all works out to good things -- and I really do trust that -- but sometimes getting there is not a fun journey. So pray for us. Pray for Ben and I, pray for the people who belong to The Vine, and pray for those whose lives have been impacted by this grand experiment in church. Pray that we can grieve and end well together: with stories, and laughter and tears, knowing that new life awaits.

If you'd like to read our "official statement" about the close of this ministry, you can find it here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Rhythms and Routines

I've been "back" from sabbatical for over a week now. Re-entry has been difficult and more than a bit draining! I've been trying to work through this fog that I've been calling "sabbatical brain." Basically it covers the multitude of tiny errors I've made as I've readjusted to reality. The largest culprit? Forgetting to look at my calendar before scheduling events. Having nothing to do and nowhere to be for seven weeks has shifted my default response to any invitation to "Sure! That works great!"

So that's been my response so far to pretty much any invitation and at least I've had the presence of mind to decide I should put it into my calendar...at which point I discover that I probably should have checked my calendar first before responding. Back on the job for not even a week and I've nearly double-scheduled myself three times. I clearly have to get back into the habit of checking my calendar.

But that isn't what I wanted to write this blog post about. I meant to talk about a few practices that I started (or maintained) over sabbatical that I want to continue doing to help establish some healthier ways of being.

First off - I'm done with balancing. Balancing is for gymnasts and bank accounts. Maybe your diet, too. When I take a look at everything I have on my schedule and between work, personal needs, family, volunteer commitments, second and third jobs, friendships, God, spiritual life...there's no way anything is balancing out. At least, not in any way that makes me a sane human being. Instead, I prefer to think about rhythms. It was a great boost when I heard Nadia Bolz-Weber speak earlier this year coming to similar conclusions about rhythms vs. balancing. It made me think that maybe I'm on the right track in my approach! In any case, I've decided that setting some daily and weekly (and monthly!) rhythms ensures that (1) everything gets done, (2) I'm in a better frame of mind, (3) I can better attune myself to my own needs. There will be times where life is at a faster pace and times when it is more laid back.  Establishing a rhythm means during those faster times, nothing will fall through the cracks, and during the slower times I won't dismiss practices as unnecessary.

To that end, here are some practices that I have maintained or integrated into my rhythm of life that I plan on continuing:

(1) Daily Prayer. Ben and I pray from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals every day. Every Friday, we open our home at 8 AM for people to join us. Sometimes, we bribe people with food. Daily prayer (and especially using this particular resource) has been helpful for grounding me regularly in silence, prayer, and Scripture. I've found it to be a very helpful way to start the day.

(2) Running. Oddly enough, Ben and I have been running three times a week since right after Easter. We've kept it going during sabbatical and have done two for two since we've gotten back. I've even purchased gear for colder weather. I love running (most of the time!) and it's helpful for working out any tension or anxiety. Yay endorphins!

(3) Protein for Breakfast. Eggs. And bacon. We ate a lot of bacon over sabbatical. A lot of bacon. Because of the price, bacon can't be an every day thing (sadly), but eating more protein and less starch for breakfast has helped me stay fuller longer, and given me more energy to make it through the morning. Eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt, avocado - all good things that I want to keep on my plate in the mornings.

(4) Meal Planning. I love to cook, but when life gets full, this is the first thing that goes, and then we end up eating things that are unhealthy and convenient like Domino's or ice cream. Every week, there will be healthy snacks in our house (like my new favorite homemade hummus recipe or crock pot yogurt for smoothies), and one night a week we will have a killer meal that takes loves and energy to prepare and that we will not eat in front of the television.

(5) More knitting. I knit so I don't kill people. (Seriously, it's a bumper sticker). Maybe it's not quite that extreme, because it has been awhile since I've knitted on a consistent basis, but over sabbatical I had the opportunity to work on quite a few craft projects (and finished a second sock!  Woohoo!). I watch enough television (between sports and the few shows I follow) that I should be able to manage completing projects on a regular basis.

(6) Second walks with the dogs. It's good for me, and it's good for them...because they are getting a bit pudgy. It makes them happier, too, and it's a helpful quick break in the middle of the day. Much better than frittering 20 minutes away on Facebook or Twitter. Keep those steps over 10,000 each day...or every other day....or at least four times a week.

These are just a few things I've found helpful. Finding things that nurture me that aren't extra add-ons to the day that are easily integrated into the natural course of the day or week. I think the world would be better off if we stopped trying to balance our way into happiness and started dancing our way there instead.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Summer Sabbatical

For the past three and a half weeks, Ben and I have been on sabbatical leave. Much like missionaries who have been out in the field for awhile and come home to rest and renew, we've felt the need for a respite from our work. For the past week or so, we've been resting in Williamstown, MA out in the Berkshires. Honestly, we haven't done much but sleep, read, eat, and sleep some more...which has been great and sorely needed.

Our culture doesn't do rest well - if we do rest at all. We live in this world of full appointment books, constant to-do lists, always running from one thing to the next.  Rest happens when you are too burned out or tired to meaningfully contribute anymore, and taking time to disengage from the busyness of life is oftentimes looked at as a luxury that few can afford to take....there's just always so much more to do.

I've kept a sabbath day for about the past 10 years. One day each week where I do not work. I don't pick up the phone, I intentionally engage in activities that I enjoy doing, I spend some time reading or reflecting -- anything but work. Jesus said it was important to keep the sabbath...and I see why. Everyone needs a time - weekly - that work stops, where sacred space is created, where we disengage from all the doing that distracts us from ourselves and remember what it means to be human.

I remember how impossible one full day seemed when I first picked up the practice. I was in college with a fairly busy schede; between rehearsals, classes, and schoolwork, I was sure that I would never be able to find a full day where I could simply do I whatever I wanted. But I had been challenged to pick up the practice, so I did. Sunday ended up being a particularly convenient day at that point in my life, so I decided that I would not do any classwork on Sunday. I attended worship, was in a Bible Study in the evening, and I watched football. It meant that I had to manage my time more efficiently during the week - but it was wonderful to be able to set all the work aside for a day to connect with people from my faith community and engage in the things that gave me life and energy.

I kept the practice up through seminary and as I entered into professional ministry. Monday is the day when both my husband and I do no work at all. We set aside the busy-ness of our lives and do the things that help us reconnect with ourselves (and help us become a bit more human again).

Just as we need this weekly rhythm, we need seasonal, yearly, and other cycles of rest and renewal. 3dm teaches that we as human beings were created to rest and work...but we aren't created to rest from our work, but work out of our rest. Our work comes out of our abiding in Jesus, out of being sure in our identity as God's beloved. When we fail to work out of that core of our being, our work is fruitless and we get burned out.

So even though my husband and I keep this weekly rhythm of rest and work going, we felt that we needed this time of greater rest to reconnect with ourselves in a way that will lead to greater fruitfulness in the future. So far, the journey has been about renewing ourselves physically -- lots of rest and regular exercise. As we move past the halfway point, I'm getting ready to start doing some more things with our time. We have our seventh anniversary next week, we scheduled some Tanglewood visits (including seeing Wait Wait Don't Tell Me!), and visits to art museums in the area. I have a few craft projects in my bag (and a few more books to read).

I am looking forward to a few more weeks of rest and renewal!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Annual Conference Reflections

I do this kind of a post almost every year -- if not publishing it here, at least in my journals...or in my head. The annual debrief on how I experience the throes of a dying institution and my own sense of inner conflict about (1) my place, and (2) my purpose in connection to it.

I try not to be cynical, but inevitably about halfway through the proceedings I throw in the towel and sigh and realize that, yet again, things aren't going to change. In fact, it feels like things are devolving. It's not just about the heated level of debates on the floor but about what is (and isn't) said. What was missing for me this year was conversation about how resolutions connected to our mission - both as an Annual Conference and as disciples of Jesus (the latter being way more important, in my opinion).

The writing is on the wall. Death comes. It happens to organizations and institutions - it's painful and scary but new things can be born. Will our strategic plan stave off death? No. Will our statements about affirming marraige for all people regardless of orientation change the trajectory of our denomination? No, but at least we'll die being more inclusive and justice-oriented.

I think there's still some life left -- and a lot of life that will carry us through into the future and the unknown. I see life in local congregations that connect with their community; I see life in people who have been changed by their relationship to Christ through their church family, I see life in the stories of changed neighborhoods. I see life in faithful Christians who recognize that the ground has shifted and the way we embody Christ to the world has to change.

But the institution? It's time has come and gone. The language used, the style of worship, the way we structure ourselves -- it's based on this model of Christendom that has long since left the culture.

So what about me? I've decided that I don't care much about being a good pastor (in the way the conference would recognize it). I care more about being a good disciple of Jesus. Right now, the best way for me to live into that is by creating this new faith community as a "pastor" so I can disciple others to disciple others. Maybe one day the best way for me to be a good disciple of Jesus will be to have another job that will enable me to disciple others to disciple others. I care about God's kingdom being made real and tangible in my city and in the lives of those around me - whatever that looks like. I care about relationships with people and the ways Jesus is present whether I'm in the coffeeshop, the bar, or at a worship gathering.

Would affirmation from the institution be nice? Sure. I owe a lot to the Conference and to the people and congregations who have nutured me and shaped me. And a tiny part of me thinks it would be so great to jump down the rabbit hole of BOOM papers and CPE and become part of the club. Except the club doesn't really feel much like Jesus - as a whole. Lots of wonderful disciples who make up its ranks...but I think being a good disciple of Jesus is enough for me.