Friday, April 26, 2024

Life, man

Life, man.

We've been planning this trip to North Carolina for about 5 months (because when you have 3 kids, one of them being an infant, Trips take Planning). We found a great travel plan where we'd drive a small chunk on day one, get the kids to bed, and stuff them into the car at 3:30 in the morning to do the bulk of the drive in one day. 

And it worked. Mostly.

Much like the last 30 seconds of a basketball game can take 30 minutes to play, the last hour of our drive stretched into two as our middle child complained of belly pain and then threw up all over the car seat. And then again 20 minutes down the road in the Circle K bathroom after we'd already stopped for cleanup and wardrobe change.

We wrote it off to motion sickness.

We were wrong. 

How wrong? Well, it passed to everyone in the family (and, unfortunately, beyond - our 2024 Spring Forest pilgrimage became known as the Plaguerimage).. I got it the least severely. It apparently spread beyond our family because…norovirus does that. We had pinned a lot of hopes and expectations of rest on this time away and yet…life happens. Kids pick up germs. Kids get sick. Parents comfort kids. Parents get sick. Suddenly it's five days later and you're all healthy but somehow, even though you've all rested, you're all seriously wiped. Except the kids aren't wiped, it's just the parents.

This bout with the stomach flu (and honestly, this season of sickness stretches back all the way to the beginning of the year when we got COVID) highlighted to me that we're in a super tough season of life right now where our capacity is much more limited than our ambition. Are there things we'd like to contribute to the community and to neighbors and things to develop on our land? Absolutely. Are we also in this season where kids take up most of our available time and energy and the unpredictability of their needs take up what little margin we have left and anything we give beyond this mounds up like insurmountable credit card debit with a 30% interest rate? Also yes.

I can't help but think that there must be some solution out there to rebalance our lives (i.e., how do we refinance the credit card that is our life?!?). There isn't much more that can be chucked off our plates. 

And then I remember our baseline reality is that we have a household where we’re always negotiating chronic illness with careful stewardship of energy and sleep. It means common viruses take longer to recover from (and can possibly trigger a relapse if we aren’t vigilant, thank you to COVID for that lovely gift).So there’s already some limits baked into our lives. Sometimes we don’t have to worry about them too closely and sometimes it’s an all-too-present reality. Add in the recent stressors in our life, constant germs, and a baby with unpredictable sleep, it's no wonder there’s little margin in our life right now.

I also remember the birthing class we took at Birthroots when we were expecting Michael, and the instructor shared that this particular season of parenting small humans - the in the thick of it season - is about the first three years of their life. She compared this particular season of parenting to a labyrinth - a journey winding its way to the center and our again with twists and turns. With a labyrinth, you have to trust the path to find your way back out again. Our instructor noted that this part of the parenting journey is about 3 years. (Of course, she did also mention that by the 3rd year mark, many parents are planning on entering that labyrinth again by adding more children to their family). We're in our third pass through this labyrinth, and definitely feeling like we're in one of the twisty bits.

It’s only a season (though you never know when seasons will end). And there are times where you need to rely more heavily on your community, trusting that there will be times and ways to give back as well. Yes, it’s a struggle knowing that we’re deep down in the kid hole, but I know we will emerge into a more stable rhythm one day.

Until then, we'll take all the viruses as they come.

A picture of Forest Feast Setup, and finally everyone was healthy! 

Thursday, February 01, 2024

2024 Family Intentions (or, The New Year is Finally Here!)

To say that our new year has had a bit of a ragged start would be a bit of an understatement. All of us have had one respiratory illness or another since early December, with the latest player to the field being COVID. We had 17 days of various members of the house testing positive, isolating, masking, and testing, testing, testing. We're all finally negative, though recovery continues to be slow (and now our older two kids both have the cold that is going around!) We’re slowly finding our feet and getting the new year underway.

We decided to enter into 2024 trying to be more intentional about who we are being called to be as a family. Sometime in early December, we were having a conversation with Michael about consumerism - how our cultural obsessions with buying new things made us unhappy, was hurting the planet, and would not be sustainable going into the future. We talked about how they had more toys than the richest kids did two hundred years ago and what it meant to be content with enough. 

Michael said, “I think we shouldn’t buy ANYTHING for a year!” We bargained him down to three months, which became our first commitment as a family this year. We’re buying nothing beyond necessities until Easter. We’ve limited our spending to gas, groceries, personal care items (we’re still going to get floss if we run out!), giving to our faith communities, and obviously utilities (keep the electric company happy). At the same time, we’re picking up more quality family time together: board games, activities, and outdoor activities that can help recenter our family on something beyond screens and new toys.

The Enchanted Broccoli Forest Cookbook by Mollie Katzen
The cookbook that will be 
the foundation of our 
recipe selection
The second intention is: One Family, One Meal. Practically, I’m really tired of feeling like a short order cook at times, and sometimes I get into the pattern where I have no idea what I’m going to make for dinner. I enjoy meal planning a great deal, but there are times when I don’t have the capacity to think about what we’re going to eat for the coming week when I grocery shop, so I just throw items into the cart based on what we normally have on hand. Also, our kids are not always adventurous eaters. Don’t get me wrong, they eat a lot of vegetables but they don’t do a lot of things…mixed together. Casseroles are out of the question. I made cheesy potatoes the other day and there was a less than enthusiastic response. They aren’t always keen on things that have seasoning. But they’ve made a commitment to try new things this year, and so each week, we - as a family - are going to pick a recipe and make it together. Our Thursday night meal will be something new for us to try together. The kids will get to pick one meal each week, on Wednesdays we’ll make pizza, and then it’s leftovers and adult picks for the rest of the week. 

Michael cooking 
quesadillas while we were
all isolating from COVID
Part of it is to get our kids to eat different foods, but the other part of it is trying to help our kids learn how to be grateful for what the earth has produced for us to eat and for the work of the many hands who grew, tended, harvested, processed, packaged, transported, and cooked the food. We are aware that our children have culturally-conditioned food aversions: that it is now a norm that our kids don’t need to eat anything that doesn’t instantly hit those pleasure centers in the brain - and the food that does that also happens to be highly processed, not very healthy, and, as we’re learning now, can have long-term health consequences that we don’t yet fully understand. However, living in mutuality with the Earth and learning that eating is first about community, and not about a hyper-individualized expression of personal preference, is not the norm. This requires learning new skills and attitudes for how we approach our food (both for us and for them.) By no means do we want to force distasteful foods on our kids, but we do want to teach them how to be grateful for the food that is available to them; especially as we begin to homestead and they learn more deeply the connections between animal, soil, and table.  

So far (in the past couple of weeks we’ve had the capacity to try it) it’s gone over OK. Cauliflower Paprikash was a bust (The onions! The onions!). Roasted broccoli with lemon and feta was accepted. When I made chicken curry the other night, Michael was excited about it (though the spice level exceeded his tolerance.) This week we will try a bean and cheese casserole topped with cornbread. 

No extra spending has been a bit easier, since we're not big shoppers anyway, but picking up intentional family time has proved to be a bit more challenging, mostly since we're exhausted and still recovering our energy from COVID. It's an invitation for us to evaluate how we're all spending our time and how we can recalibrate our priorities to make space. 

So, we're easing our way into the new year. After all, it's like the meme going around the internet this time of year, that January was the free trial period, with February being the real start to 2024! But maybe progress like this means that change will last, as opposed to diving in head first only to be overwhelmed by all the new changes and slipping back into old ways of being. In any case, I feel like these shifts, and the grounding beneath them, will prove foundational and fruitful, especially for our kids, as we continue to raise them to follow Jesus on our little two acre island of sanity.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Rhythms of Life

I posted a reflection several weeks ago on where I found myself about one year after stepping out of professional ministry. Not much has changed in those weeks (except for being perpetually sick with one respiratory illness or another, culminating in a bout with COVID which wasn't physically terrible but certainly logistically so), but I feel the need to be more intentional about stepping into vocation in this season and share more concretely how being nap-trapped, washing endless dishes, and herding chickens and children, is a holy incarnation of the ordained life for me right now.

For awhile I've been drawn to the work of David Gate; he posts his poems on Instagram and many are hand-typed on a typewriter for purchase. I finally decided to mark a few I wanted hard copies of for Christmas and I got both this past week. I find that right now these two poems are a helpful anchor for my vocation and identity right now as a clergy person not in professional ministry. 


Doing the laundry 
and the dishes 
and meal preparation 
are not tasks of the mundane 
because being clothed 
and clean 
and fed 
declares the dignity 
of human life 
and nurtures us 
into new days 
into new eras 
they are not mundane, no 
they are the rituals of care


This kitchen sink, the font 
of my home, where bread 
pans soak & milk bottles
swill, where we wash paint pots 
& brushes in the aftermath 
of craft, where salad leaves 
rinse to be rid of bugs & soil 
where I clean the abrasions 
of my working hands & all the blood 
from the little cuts of constant use 
in repetition & never-ending chore 
I come to these sacred waters 
daily to baptize the entirety of my holy life

First of all, I love these poems because they have a monastic feel to them. The work of the everyday, the seemingly endless cycle of cleaning and cooking, the rhythm of slowing down and tending to the needs of the present, is a holy act of hospitality. I've always been drawn to the monastic rhythm of work and prayer, and there's something compelling about being in relationship with a community of people who share that way of life. Whether that kind of neomonastic community will spring up here or not is not on the horizon yet, but it's a reminder that this path is a different witness than that of faith organized around a congregation.

Secondly, these poems remind me of the Greek word kenosis, which roughly translates as emptying out. It's used in the letter to the church at Philippi where Paul quotes one of the earliest Christian hymns, where he refers to Jesus as pouring himself out and becoming human. To me, it is this lovely image of downward mobility, that God more often than not is found in the mundane places. God is found in humility and service. God is found within as our ego loses control of our truest self. God dwells down and within; we don't have to reach for it as the holy is already there. For me, ordination is a commitment to intentionally and publicly live in this set apart way; it is not an elevated status but rather one that drives you into the deepest depths of self on the path of following Jesus.

I plan on framing these prints and placing them on the side of my cabinets over the kitchen sink, which is a place I spend an inordinate amount of time. Having these physical reminders will be helpful for my calling in this season (also these two poems need to be added to the collection...too many of them actually!) Focus on the present needs, tend to the rhythm of work and prayer, and give thanks for the mundane acts of love and care.

Bonus Picture of my Kitchen Sink

Monday, December 04, 2023

One Year Later

It's been a year since we've moved in and almost a full year into this next season of life where we've added our third child to the mix, I've gotten ordained, and where I'm still figuring out the “what's next?’ part when it comes to life on this land (well, I’ve figured out where the apple trees will go in the spring and we’ve got the chickens and I've signed up for a permaculture class in the summer. 😂) I spent the first part of the year getting ready for Emeline to arrive and this second part of the year has been about reorienting our lives as a family of five.

While there was a pretty clear delineation around this transition for me (I was working and now am not, at least in the remunerative sense), this still feels much like a liminal time, where what has been is done and what will be is not yet. A huge factor in this, of course, is being down the kid hole yet again, walking once more into the labyrinth of sleepless nights and constant vigilance and naps and feeding after having just found my way out of that labyrinth in a stable routine with two kids. It’s also meant more hands-on parenting time, which was a large part of me stepping down, and it is good work but hard work and far too often I focus on my deficits and where I’m failing rather than what is joyous and going well. Having three young kids is all-consuming, so it's fairly straightforward to say that this right in front of me is the work I need to be paying attention to and that whatever will be will emerge whenever it's time.

There's still a lot I'm letting go of and a lot I'm learning. I joke that the symbols of my ordination should have been an apron and some work gloves (and maybe a diaper or two and clothing covered in spit up). I have to remind myself that the work of mothering (and at least attempting to keep the house in order) is sacred and holy, even if it is not work that receives the same kind of public attention (or affirmation or celebration) as congregational ministry. A friend recently commented that our house felt like the Weasley’s home from Harry Potter - the place of safe haven, warmth, and hospitality (and, of course, slightly chaotic). It is very akin to the vibe we’re going for. And while there are still parts of pastoring a church I miss deeply, you should all be glad I’m not preaching weekly, because you’d be treated to overly-caffeinated jumbled thoughts and a slightly vacant stare in the pulpit.

There’s much on my heart that I’m holding for a later season - issues like food justice, which I know I need to do more reading around, and creating community around eating together, which is doable even now though most days I’m scrambling to put dinner on the table that my kids will find palatable and that Ben and I will also enjoy. I also continue to think about faith formation with children - not in Sunday School settings per se, or even group settings where there is “teaching” and “instruction”, but more in helping families have conversations about life and faith in the home. Maybe something along the lines of offering spiritual direction for parents or children or…who knows what that might look like. 

But the phrase that continues to resonate with me is from Margaret Wheatley’s Who Do We Chose To Be - being an “island of sanity” as we look to what the future holds, and exercising leadership in that capacity (seeing clearly what is happening and acting wisely in the midst of it). Not a bad definition of ordination, to be honest. So a lot of the work right now also pertains to that practice and to cultivating this island of sanity on the island on which I live.

It has been a full year to be sure. Joy and grief, learning and unlearning. Holding on to what is real and tending to where there is life and energy. Practicing a contemplative stance. It's simple work, sometimes hard work, but always meaningful work. I love this house and what we are building here (or, perhaps, cooperating with what wants to be built here). I'm curious to see just what will take shape in the season ahead.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Harvest Moon Reflections

When did Christianity become so disconnected from the Earth? So separate from the rhythms of nature that bring us back to the place of wonder and humility as we find again the brilliance of life rising out of the water?

We headed to the shore this evening to watch the moonrise. I hated the resurgence of the mosquitos, which considerably dampened my experience (but since they have been fairly absent for most of the summer...No, I will not give these minute terrors any excuses as I sit here, suffering from literally 20 bites on my legs. Believe me, I counted them as I slathered on the Benadryl cream.)

A few of us gathered on the beach eagerly awaiting the rising of the moon, trying to guess where it would appear, all the while trying to prevent my children from splashing in the water (in their PJs) or making sand angels. It felt like a holy space, the anticipation of the slow rising of light and the delight in discovering the hazy red glow of the Harvest Moon before us. 

I knew God was there, though there was no Invocation (but for the casual conversations as our eyes scanned the horizon). There was no Prayer of Confession, except, perhaps, for the realization that there are forces at work far larger than us - that even though I don't see the moon (yet), the moon sees me even through the clouds and grants forgiveness for ever doubting its presence. There was no Proclamation of the Word or sermon but for the silent rising that declared the constant presence of a God that bears silent witness to all that is carried in the shadowed places and meets it all with love and grace. There was no Benediction but for the laughter of tired children running back to the car, somehow unscathed by mosquito bites but also sandy as all get out.

How much have we lost by not acknowledging and celebrating these small, sacred moments? Not as a substitute for the larger gathering of the Body of Christ (because, as one of my new favorite quotes from Rev. Lillian Daniel states, "Any idiot can find God alone in the sunset. It takes a certain maturity to find God in the person sitting next to you who not only voted for the wrong political party but has a baby who is crying while you’re trying to listen to the sermon.”) but as equally deserving of notice and attention - a kind of worship that draws us back to creation and our utter reliance upon the very rhythms that mark time and season.

There's something about the island that allows us to come back to that space, that invites us to remember how much we are governed by forces beyond our control, not in a spirit of determinism, but in one that is a give and take of action and response, of movement and stillness, of high tide - and low tide. Certain streams of Christianity would have us think that we (in partnership of God, of course!) are the makers of our own future - that any future we so desire and aspire to is one within the will of God. 

Watching the moon rise, seeing the tide come in, feeling the sun slowly warm the sand, reminds us just how much we are not able to control our lives. 

I'm not sure where I'm going with all of this, except this evening, as I watched the moon climb higher in the sky, as I noticed other people share on social media their own rituals this particular moonrise, I feel the desire to dig deep and acknowledge the ways God is made known in Jesus who walks alongside us, is made known in the works fashioned and sustained by God's own heart, is made known in the gathered body on Sunday mornings and on Saturday nights to watch the glorious moon rise above the water.

I'll Stay Here With You

Right now, my youngest is going through a bit of an unpredictable phase when it comes to sleep. There are nights (and naps) where she will consent to being placed in her bed and will let me walk out of the room. There are other times when she wants to be held. On occasion, I have to pick her up and place her in bed 10 times before she'll stay. Sometimes, the only way for her to calm her body enough for sleep is for me to lie down with her and tuck her in once she's drowsy enough.

(No doubt I'll get parent-shamed for not keeping to a consistent bedtime routine. We've tried routines; they only work until they don't anymore...and our routine up until the actual bed is remarkably predictable).

A week ago, I put Genevieve in her crib upstairs for a nap. She wanted to be held, but I said that I couldn't do that right now, but that I'd stay with her while she fell asleep. 

Hearing myself say that phrase - it caught my attention. "I'll stay here with you." 

I had a conversation over Labor Day weekend with my husband's aunt and uncle who have been up in Maine visiting for the past few weeks. Part of their life's journey have included the death of a child and an MS diagnosis. As we were talking one afternoon, she shared a bit about what it was like in those spaces, to have so many relationships renegotiated because other people didn't know how to deal with what they were going through. They didn't know what to say, or didn't want to burden them with their problems because "yours are so much worse," or they simply drifted away. Over time, relationships sifted out and his aunt shared about the wonderful circle of friends she has now who embrace her for all of who she is.

We all have our share of burdens. So many people I know are carrying heavy loads right now, whether it's feeling the state of the world, supporting hurting communities, navigating personal struggles, or some combination of the three. Oftentimes we don't know how to show up in the lives of our friends and neighbors who are in the thick of it. Pain makes us uncomfortable, so we try to fix it or share uplifting platitudes or put some distance between us and our friend. We somehow think that if we can't make what's happening in our friend's life better, what use do we have?

Over Lent, the church I serve worked through Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie's book Good Enough. Reading these devotionals and listening to several episodes of Kate Bowler's Podcast Everything Happens have reinforced this idea that the impulse to fix or "help" those who are hurting needs to take a back seat to presence. Support doesn't always look like the "everything will turn out OK" lines we're taught to say - support more often looks like "I'll stay here with you. I see your hurt. I see your pain. I don't know what to say, but I will be here with you. I will bear witness in this season."

Isn't that the beauty of being human together? It for sure is about the joyful moments, it is also about the moments we sit with one another in the ashes. There's beauty in the hard places where we stay raw to the hurts and wounds of those around us. 

God stays here with us - so we can stay here with each other.

Friday, September 02, 2022

Finding Lost Things and Other Talents

A few weeks.ago or so , I went to my favorite beach with the kids. We had a morning to kill before heading off-island in the afternoon to run some errands. (I still marvel from time to time that I live in a place where it's so easy to pop off to the beach for an hour or two and not have it be a Whole Ordeal).

The kids immediately wandered off (mostly to dig in the muddy low tide sand) while I set about to my favorite activity (pictured here). Sea glass, sea pottery - all sorts of treasures - wash up regularly on this beach.

Eventually my meanderings took me over to a section of a beach where a friend and her family, along with an islander armed with a metal detector, were combing a particular section of sand and seaweed. A men's wedding ring had been lost the night before, and what had been thought to have been safely tucked away  in a shoe, turned out not to have been the case. A Facebook plea to the community had turned up some help with the search. (One of the folks looking for the lost ring gave me the lovely floral sea pottery piece that I'm holding near the tips of my fingers; it looks like it had once belonged to a teacup).

As I continued my own wanderings (eyes sharpened to keep watch for a white gold metal band), I immediately thought of the Parable of the Lost Coin, where a woman turns her house inside out to find one of her lost silver coins, and when it is found, invites her community to rejoice with her.

It led me to thinking about how we all have our roles and ways of being as it relates to the unfolding of God's kingdom - like in 1 Corinthians, where Paul talks about planting the seed of the gospel among them and talks about Apollo watering that seed (and the growth coming from God). Toss in this beautiful modern remix of 1 Corinthians 12 from enfleshed and there are so many ways to witness and embody God's hopes and dreams for this world. (Of course, I also thought about Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, when Chief Engineer Hemmer tells Uhura what his purpose in life is: it is to fix what is broken. Layers of meaning there.)

Finding what is lost. Fixing what is broken. Planting seeds of hope. Practicing resurrection. Communication across barriers. Nourishing others. How wonderful would it be if we could all distill our purposes down to a short, single phrase? Our purposes get incarnated in a thousand different ways over the course of our lifetimes, and even then, we may find that purpose changing and shifting and intersecting each other.

In my household, I joke that I am the Finder of Things. I have an uncanny ability in recovering That Which Is Needed (be it a treasured stuffie, Ben's winter hat, the One Specific Lego, etc). Granted, this is something that I do for the other people in my house; I can only sometimes find That Which Is Needed For Myself. I have a visual memory and somehow my brain just passively notices and stores all these things so that I can locate the car key or the wallet or the phone when required. When looking for a particular quote in a book, more often than not I remember where on the page it's situated.

A couple months ago, I was talking with my spiritual director, filling him in on bits and pieces of what my life looks like right now and the time of transition I'm in as we look to inhabit our Very Much Still In-Process place on Fire House Road. I shared a bit of the story and how this property held so many special memories for folks on the island and how glad so many folks were that we'd taken it on as a project. I joked that that was kind of our Modus Operandi as a couple - the vocational bent of our shared life has been about bringing dead places back to life. He responded sharing that it wasn't just bringing it back to life, but a resurrected, new life. 

That's what we do in this kingdom life. I know others who are Nourishers, Practicers of Radical Hospitality, Revealers of Beauty, Truth-Tellers, Fishers of People. Each brings their purpose into everything they do; it's just part of who they are, as easy as breathing. It doesn't matter if they are pastoring a congregation, farming the land, restoring and renovating a house, retired, or serving lunches at a school. It's not about what they are paid to do; it's a part of who they are.

The ring, blessedly, was found on the path leading back to the main road. There was much rejoicing (which I got to share in.) Surely prayer made a difference; what also made a difference was the volunteer efforts of one man who used his gifts (and a metal detector) to Find What Was Lost, this bringing joy and relief to a family who needed it in that moment. There was a high degree of confidence in his efforts, as during the search he had shared the stories of all the other items he had found for others who had lost them.

We all have our purposes - our parts to play. What is yours? 

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Random Thoughts on Summer and Adaptive Change

 Summer is here at last. Our seasonal friends (well, they aren't only friends in the summer, just friends that are here in the summer) are returning. School is out. Days are longer and warmer and there's a certain change in the air that is the promise of lots of time at the beach - but only a promise because I look at my schedule and see a rapidly approaching house deadline, several funerals/gravesides/memorials scheduled (in addition to normal Sunday morning worship) and three days of childcare for the small one (and two days for the older one) and wonder "how the heck do I keep my sanity in the midst of everything?" 

There's a certain degree of intentionality with which I want to live and maintain our household, with lots of rhythm and routine (baking the bread for the week, storing the vegetables for the winter - even though I am a sucky gardener at this point, order the house, etc). I am nowhere near that yet. Right now I am in the throes of survival to get to the point where I have enough space to create the life God is inviting me into.

I'll be honest in saying that I'm in a Not Great place lately. I'm tired. The pressure to "make the most of this summer" is overwhelming from every corner. Now that the pandemic is "over", the full court press is on for activities, gatherings, Doing the Normal Things Because That's What We Do, and I find myself feeling out of step from the rest of the world which seems to have no problem returning to Normal with a vengeance. Except so many people are tired, or have reprioritized their lives and are more protective(?) with their time and energy.

I'm not sure that organizations and institutions have really grappled with the fact that the pandemic has changed the landscape of participation. Layer the realities of gun violence, the war in Ukraine, the January 6th hearings, SCOTUS decisions, and we're all just so burdened. The fabric of our society is unraveling - and to be sure, that's anxiety inducing and unsettling. So many institutions - like our churches - aren't immune to the effects. But, anxious organizations hold ever more tightly to those practices that are familiar, give comfort, and provide a sense of stability. Such adherence to the status quo doesn't actually engage with reality; it merely delays any adaptive change that might help move an organization forward and thrive in the midst of anxious times.

To be sure, many leaders had to have Adaptive Mindsets to the Max over these past few years. Yet now that the pandemic is "over", it is not the time to go running back to normal. It's time to step back, pay attention, notice where the energies are actually flowing and partner with that. I think about this particularly with churches. Discernment and curious questions are key in this time. Ask why people aren't flocking back to worship instead of throwing every band-aid solution at luring them back in. Ask why families have been so reluctant to reengage with congregational life. Ask why new leaders aren't stepping up or why new ministries aren't emerging. Ask what is happening in your community that is life-giving to folks. Spend more time there. (I can almost guarantee you that for most people, worship isn't it.) 

Such principles are always easier to talk about than practice. Many leaders - pastors especially - are entrenched in systems that have Acted in Certain Ways for Generations, in communities that have established patterns of behaviors (this gets exacerbated in small towns and even more so in Unbridged Island Communities). I believe, however, that the churches that are going to make it as we move into the future are the ones that can practice this contemplative stance together and who aren't afraid to ditch the things that feel normal for the sake of a thriving body that serves the community.

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

One Year Later

 It’s been a year.

Looking back, there were some things I anticipated about the church I serve leaving the United Methodist Church - the enormous amount of work forming an independent entity, the need for finding connection and community in new ways, the importance of my own discernment regarding my relationship with the denomination that formed my faith since birth and the need to figure out where I would eventually land.

What I didn’t anticipate was how profoundly the events of Annual Conference last year would reveal how toxic a system the congregation I serve was leaving.

For those who took the time to call, text, write, or email in the aftermath of those days, I am deeply grateful. I didn’t anticipate how deeply painful those few days would be - from having your future debated without being able to be present to having the integrity of your ministry questioned to the outright manipulation of the process. There are many specifics of those days I do not remember clearly (though I can go back and read the transcripts or see the screenshots of the outright lies shared on social media if I ever wanted to remind myself of how horrific it was) but my body continues to remember these things. It knows the cost. I continue to feel the deep relational betrayal - not primarily from those who were most vocal against disaffiliation, but from the many who sat in silence, including those who had nurtured my call to ministry, supported me as I went to seminary and in the work of planting a new faith community.

In light of how those proceedings were held, even though there was a pathway created for retaining United Methodist credentialing while I considered my own relationship to the UMC while serving a disaffiliated congregation, there was no way I could continue to remain professionally associated with United Methodism and hold on to my own professional, personal, and spiritual integrity.

About a month after the church’s disaffiliation became official, I was asked to surrender the piece of paper that granted my license for ministry, despite it clearly stating on that document that I was only authorized for pastoral ministry until the appointment was terminated. This, of course, would clearly have been given that the congregation was no longer United Methodist. This letter, along with a cursory email checking in on my status before the church disaffiliated and a brief email confirming receipt of my license, was the extent of any official communication from the New England Annual Conference or its committees as it pertained to my experience. I sent in the license (decorated with the signatures of people who continue to affirm my call and ministry) along with a letter to the bishop, which detailed my concerns about the events that transpired on the floor of Annual Conference last year, with copies sent to my former district superintendent and the co-chairs of the Board of Ordained Ministry. (Incidentally, I know of no other local pastor who has been asked to turn in their license upon ending their appointments).

For those people who have reached out to me for conversation and sharing, I am deeply grateful. I appreciate all who have prayed for me and for the church I serve as we’ve navigated this year. For me, it has been a year of mourning, as I grieve the loss of the people called United Methodist in New England, who have been my community since I attended my first Annual Conference in high school. It has been a year of unlearning a lot of assumptions about what connectionalism can and should be. It has been a year of emerging relationships and networks and taking tentative steps into new beginnings. It's been hard and liberating and clarifying and there are times I continue to mourn - for myself and what I had hoped the UMC could be. There has also been incredible freedom in pursuing new paths and new relationships.

Those of you who know me know that I’ve never been much of an institutionalist. I’ve always gravitated toward ministry on the edges and in the more overlooked places, from the streets of downtown Haverhill to the resilient shores of Chebeague Island. I’ve always had a heart for God’s unfolding dream among a people and in a place, and I’ve sought to follow God’s leading faithfully. I’ve also been one to hope that the UMC, particularly in New England, could position itself to adapt to the uncertainty facing the denomination’s future, particularly in light of our changing religious landscape in our country. I also had a sense that God could work powerfully within the system and there were times I served on conference committees, believing that the work made a difference for the church and for the world.

However, last year’s Annual Conference demonstrated that allegiance to institution is the paramount value that drives the denomination, that there is only one permitted way to faithfully respond to God’s call for inclusion which is to stay and fight, and that there are relational costs to pay for divestment. 

To those of you attending Annual Conference in New England this week, I’m sure there will be acknowledgements of how painful last year was. There will be comments about broken trust, the need to heal. An image of the Beloved Community will be lifted up. I’m sure you will talk about brave space conversations and the hope of moving into the future marked by liberation and inclusion. To me, those are empty words, bereft of the work of confession and repentance. You want to “heal” not for the sake of transformation, but to absolve yourself of the guilt and harm you’ve caused - not just this past year, but for decades. I don't want to minimize the pain that others experienced last year, but please don't pretend that hurt and pain was all one-sided.

Jesus said you will know them by their fruits. What I observed and experienced last year - the lies, the manipulation, the weaponized pain, the silencing - demonstrate that there are more serious and systemic issues to grapple with than policy change. While full inclusion is a necessary step for justice, cycles of harm will continue unless deep work happens around how people extend grace to one another, honor pain, and entrust each other to God's care.

As you move forward this year at Annual Conference, please consider what that work might actually look like and have the courage to do it. It won’t be through empty words or hollow resolutions, but through reflection and repentance for the harm caused as part of the disaffiliation process. While there may be no way for me to restore my trust in you as a body or as people seeking to faithfully embody Jesus in this world, I pray that you may have the wisdom to show others more grace than you did me.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Why I Hate Summer (at least, Why I Hate This Summer)

 I knew this summer was going to be full. Between the congregation I serve going through disaffiliation from the United Methodist Church, our house renovation project moving forward (with some fun summer surprises), two small kids, the busyness of summer on Chebeague, and the first "post-pandemic" summer (ha!), there wasn't going to be a lot of time to stop and breathe. Certainly no margins for error in our delicate family balance.

What I didn't anticipate was the toll on my body and my spirit from Annual Conference this year (and how that experience basically left me without a faith community or denominational home...I will write about that one day) and the waves of anxiety that come up without warning and render me having to work hard to even swallow.

I didn't anticipate Ben getting appendicitis and having emergency surgery at the end of July. (A huge amount of gratitude for everyone who carried us through these past couple weeks as Ben recovers. The surgeon said one more week and he should be fine to do just about everything again).

And in the midst of one of our busiest weeks, where we had planned to go out for dinner together for the first time since March 2020 to celebrate our 14 year anniversary, I didn't plan on my youngest catching the stomach bug that has been making the rounds, thus upending our Fancy Dinner Plans (not to mention the juggling and shuffling of work that happens when there's a sick kid).

The thing is, most people I know around here are having heavy summers as well. So many of us are just making it as best we can through the shit that has cropped up - whether that is the uncertainty of personal health issues, the anxiety of rising COVID cases, the weight of what’s happening in our world, and everything in between. We’re all just carrying a lot these days - we were carrying a lot going into this summer season, and it has continued to pile on.

Reading Nadia Bolz-Weber’s most recent piece at The Corners helped put a lot in perspective for me. That, and the constant jettising of extraneous bits of commitments and the general right-sizing of the expectations I am placing on myself (by which I mean, I’m lowering my standards), and trying to get a better sense of what my actual capacity is these days. It’s always been challenging to find a healthy rhythm and flow between “Pastor Hat” and “Spouse hat” and “Parent hat” and “Insert-Hat-of-Choice-Here Hat”. This season has also exacerbated my overfunctioning tendencies when it comes to my work, which is terribly easy to do in a half time setting. 

I’m grateful that God carries us through these seasons, through the gift of community that steps in to make meals and watch children and through the gift of grace that works beyond my abilities and through the gift of people who will just sit with me and acknowledge the shittiness of it all without feeling the need to solve anything.

I’m hopeful that as the school year starts, there will be a bit more margin for healthy rhythms - both for me in my own spiritual practices (which have gone woefully neglected) and in terms of prioritizing my family and their well-being. I’m hopeful that as the church moves forward into its new season, we can have some good conversations about expectations and roles and responsibilities and communication. Maybe the first wounds can begin to heal from earlier this summer. 

And maybe I can step a bit more intentionally into the spaciousness I want for this next season of my life.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Coming Out the Other End

March 15, 2020 was the last worship gathering we had in our sanctuary space. Genevieve was barely mobile. We stood during coffee hour, distanced from one another (as you can see from the pic barely showing our feet). After worship, my family went to go spend a couple days with my parents. It was the last time Ben and I went out on a date, if you can call restaurant hopping down Forest Ave in Portland and panic buying supplies at Veranda Asian Market a proper romantic outing.

I am thankful that the church had already started having conversations on Chebeague about how to organize a response to the virus in our community. Early on we partnered with the Island Council reminding folks of the resources in the community, encouraging folks to make sure they had supplies of their prescriptions, offering to connect folks who needed help with technology, getting a list of mainland go-fers and volunteers for necessities., reminding folks to be in touch with their healthcare providers if they had any questions. Our food pantry ramped up quickly as Stay-at-Home orders were put in place so that people could have access to food to limit exposure on the mainland. Those early days of the pandemic were a whirlwind of figuring out how to do this without daycare, while preparing for Easter in this weird pandemic reality where we knew so little and what we did know seemed to change from day to day. It was energizing and exhausting and I will forever be grateful for those who came together around our family to help us see it through that time. We all did this for one another.

The summer afforded some degree of normalcy for our family, though the continued lack of daycare was a struggle. At least we could get outside, enjoy the sun and the water, and had some quarantine-before-we-went vacations with each side of our family. COVID testing was available on the island - thanks to the church being the fiscal sponsor of a grant that some dedicated medical professionals put together to serve the island.

What saved our family, however, was daycare and in-person school opening in the fall. What a privilege to have our school numbers be at a place where social-distancing was possible, and where we had a staff dedicated to cleaning, creativity, outdoor learning, and so much more. They have been rock stars and deserve all the praise and gratitude. What a gift to have a Kids' Place open again to create a nurturing environment for the island's youngest residents. The staff there have made such a wonderful safe haven for the littles and it lifts my heart when Genevieve bounds in the door, excited to be there. Both of these critical island resources have saved our family's sanity over and over and over again this winter.

Certainly there are a lot of personal lessons I am taking away from this year - that I am far more resilient than I thought, that asking for help is something I can do, that time with family is precious and fleeting (after all, Genevieve went from being a baby with chunky legs to a full force toddler in this time), that when faced with being tired and miserable or just tired - always pick being tired, just to name a few of them.

But what I also learned after a year of navigating the pandemic with this community is just how lucky I am to live here. So many people and organizations found ways to adapt to the challenges of this time. Technology played a huge part in this, and our island does desperately need better access to the internet. But neighbor-to-neighbor connection got us through as well, with people checking in with one another, going on walks together, forming pods together, and lending helping hands wherever they could. It was hard and contentious at times - as life on Chebeague can definitely be at times - but with the light at the end of the tunnel, we will make it through together.

I haven't given a ton of thought to post-pandemic life; I probably should so I'm not swept up in patterns that I don't want to continue. In the after-time, I plan on saying "no" a lot more, that's for sure. I think the church should wrestle with these things as well, even as we have this major change of disaffiliation from the UMC before us.

I wonder, though, if organizations (and the town?) shouldn't have these conversations as well. How do we want to be going forward? Do we have to go back 100% to how things were before everything shut down? What from this time can we carry with us - and what can we leave in the past, both from the pandemic *and* from life before?

I know that this summer will still be different - the vaccine, while huge, isn't the key to fixing everything. We'll still need to wear masks and practice good hygiene and keep distance. We don't know how long the vaccine is effective for or how well it does against the variants, even as we know it does a good job protecting against severe illness and death. But my hope and prayer is that we won't be so eager to get back to "normal" that we forget what we've learned or that we don't take the time to hold the grief so many have experienced because of COVID. I hope that we will be gentle with ourselves, easing back into rhythms and routines that are healthier for us, for our families, for our communities, and for our planet.

[Two images: the first is mostly bare wood floor, with shoes pointing in from the edges of the picture, showing social distancing. It was taken on March 15, 2020. The second is from March 14, 2021, and shows me with a huge cup of coffee in my Mr. Rogers mug, sitting in my office, right before Zoom worship begins].

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

50 Days

It's been 50 days since I've been off the island. The last time was to visit my family for a couple days in the middle of March as the first cases of the coronavirus were confirmed in Maine. My husband and I went out for a date that included stocking up on food and an insane amount of hand sanitizing after every doorknob we touched. At that point, school had been canceled only through the end of March. Daycare had been canceled. Little did I know I had just conducted my last in-person worship service that past Sunday, complete with socially distanced coffee hour and elbow bumps instead of hugs.

50 days. 50 days of social distancing and staying at home. 50 days of evolving news about the virus and how it spreads. 50 days of no daycare. 50 days of Zoom meetings, Zoom cocktail hours, Zoom family hangouts. 50 days of not hugging anyone outside my household. 50 days of not seeing my family or my husband's family. 50 days of figuring out how to do ministry online. 50 days of figuring out how to keep our community safe and together and connected. 50 days of communicating, communicating, communicating. 50 days of bulk grocery runs. 50 days of stealing a minute to work here and there, of interruptions of "Mommy, play with me!", of working after the kids go to sleep. 50 days of watching the numbers rise of cases and deaths and seeing things stabilize - maybe - in Maine. 50 days of worry and struggle and thinking "how the heck can we make it another day, let alone a week, let alone 4 more weeks." 50 days of realizing that, in fact, we do make it. 50 days of realizing that we can never go back to the way things were. 50 days of realizing that it's still going to get harder. 50 days of realizing that we're in one heck of an apocalypse and what it's unveiling isn't pretty at all.

50 days. 50 days of quiet moments snuggling with my oldest during "rest body time", though sometimes I give in to the temptation to catch up on work as he listens to Audible stories. 50 days of Papa Tom Chapin concerts and the new songs that are in our repertoire for lullabies and dance parties around the house. 50 days of Movie Mondays (and the subsequent reenactments and retellings throughout the week). 50 days of watching the baby grow teeth and sit up and devour new foods and express exuberance at just about everything her brother or her father or I do. 50 days of watching my oldest learn new skills, like holding his own part in a round by himself, remembering the opening line of Fur Elise on the piano, of spelling CAT and BAT unaided. 50 days with weekly DnD sanity checks. 50 days of refining my minimal sewing skills in order to make cloth masks, of pulling out my camera for impromptu photo shoots, of baking bread and making yogurt and finding food on our doorstep from a neighbor. 50 days of warmer weather and more days outside and family walks.

50 days. 50 days of daily moments of grace that can only be God's doing because life's a mess right now.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Ashes, Lent, and the Journey of Motherhood

I picked up my four year old as I gave the Words of Assurance near the close of my congregation’s Ash Wednesday service. He had been fidgety and hungry for most of worship; packing a snack had not even crossed my mind in my list of preparations for the evening. Bulletins, yes; candles and decor, yes; ashes, of course; diaper bag for the baby, most assuredly. My oldest had been taking more of an interest in worship so I had assumed that he would either sit quietly and participate or color quietly up front. I had guessed wrong. He ran laps around the sanctuary, occasionally jumping over his baby sister as my husband practiced the hymns, I put the final touches on the evening, and one blessed islander sat in the back trying to spend some time in quiet prayer. That should have been my first clue that being calm might be too much for him.

We powered on, my family and four others making our way through the prayers and the ashes above his soft refrain of “I’m hungry mom; I’m hungry mom; Mom, I’m so hungry…”. As I stood to offer God’s pardon to the gathered congregation he came to me, arms outstretched, and I picked him up. I’ve led worship with him or his sister in my arms dozens of times.

This time, however, was different. This time, his seven month old sister saw him in my arms, and screamed. Screamed. I had never seen her be jealous before. But in that moment, she knew that she wanted to be where her older brother was. I put him down, walked over to the woman holding her and took her back while the opening bars of “Breathe on me, Breath of God” played, and arranged my hymnal on the music stand so I could pick him up too and sing along.

So there I was with my two kids - one in each arm - after having just shared my Ash Wednesday reflection based on the TIME magazine article by Lori Fradkin ( - all about the idea that of course mothers with young kids are not OK - even those who seem to have it all together. (The end of that worship service was pretty much the perfect illustration of that fact). Ash Wednesday is the same - it’s the opportunity for us to acknowledge that we’re not OK in our life with God, even though so often we try to pretend we are. There are always places God prompts us to grow, places in our souls that are dead and barren that God wants to bring new life to, places that we need to turn over to God again and again and again.”Repent and believe the Gospel” the phrase goes.

Except this year, I was drawn to the dust - “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” The moment of leading worship with two tired and cranky kids on my arm, as frantic and exasperated as I felt, is fleeting. Time with these two moves so swiftly, like dust being swept away by the breeze, here then gone, leaving faint smudges as the only evidence of their passing before gradually fading away into memory. Saying those words to my four year old this year brought me face to face with that reality - that someday I will be gone, he will be gone, and our energies and our remains will be absorbed once more into the cosmos.

So for Lent I’m leaning into the ephemeral nature of it all to focus on being present for the joys (and the burdens) of it all. I deleted my social media apps and turned off email on my phone. I set boundaries around my usage of Facebook and Twitter. Too often I use these platforms as a method of distraction and disengagement, distancing myself from being present. I feel led to work well when I’m “on the clock” and find healthier means of resting - reading, knitting, cooking, playing with my kids - when I’m not. I want to be here and present, knowing that far too quickly it will all be gone.

At the end of the service, I put my four year old back down so I could have a hand free to give the benediction. I always end the service with this blessing by Jan Richardson (

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

Life is messy and life is full and there are days that I am ready to be done, but these moments I have with my kids are real, even when I’m exasperated with them, even when I’m frustrated that my oldest won’t sleep or ignores my requests or when I feel sad I can’t take the teething pain away for my baby or when all I want to do is drink my coffee by myself and my oldest crawls into my lap and demands I read to him. Parenthood is not for the faint of heart, and there are days when it feels like I have made it through the burning. But there is also the awesome joy of it all - and God is in the midst of each moment of it, breathing life minute by minute, second by second.

And that’s what I want to be here for this Lent.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

An Island Funeral

I love a good funeral.

First of all, they are So. Much. Easier. than most weddings. With weddings - yes, you have the beautiful celebration of love, the hopeful unfolding of two souls journeying through life together and all that that may bring (at whatever stage of life the bridge and groom are at). But they can also be full of stress and anxiety as the couple (or others) projects their expectation of perfection upon the day, from the flowers to the cake to the flawless ceremony. Weddings are beautiful, yes; sacred, yes, but can also be stressful.

Funerals, on the other hand, especially in a place like Chebeague, are sacred and transcendent; a place where the entire community gathers time after time to witness to life. On the one hand, it's a gathering to remember a physical, concrete life of an islander with family, friends and neighbors who are grieving; on the other hand, it's saying goodbye to a way of life that is slipping through our fingers (more slowly here than in most places, thanks be to God).

Today, Chebeague buried another saint - Joan Robinson. I have gotten to know her over three years and in that time, have walked with her through some dark and difficult times, have shared with her our son Michael and seen her delight in him (even when he would steal her cane repeatedly during Whalers' rehearsals), and witnessed her faith in action. I will miss her dearly, and I know my son will too (already when we talk about visiting the Commons, the assisted living facility on the island, he wants to see Joanie).

But even more than this sacred time of storytelling, this communal grief-sharing, this time of thanksgiving that she rests healed and whole in God's presence was the beauty of community coming together to participate in the unfolding of this wondrous remembrance. Flowers from the gardens of community members - and from the Inn, who gave the church the flowers of the wedding that happened on their grounds yesterday. The Ladies Aid pulling out all the stops, marshaling everyone at their disposal for food, setup, cleanup, logistics - everything relating with the reception, and pulling it off with seamless effortlessness, even though I knew how much behind-the-scenes work it took to make it happen. The slideshow of pictures of Joanie that rotated before the service began (late, of course, because so Joan was in life, so she was in death). The sound system and rain-contingency plan that we had in place for church-overflow (although I should have known that Joanie would not have let it rain on the day of her burial...again, so she was in life, so she was in death). The straightening of the pews and hymnals and programs and all those little details that people knew needed to be done and that I didn't even have to ask about. Making the bus between the stone pier and the church happen. The serendipity of Joan's casket being in the chancel and right behind her was the altar given in memory of her grandmother. The Bible, that suddenly appeared with flowers on the altar, that she had signed and given to one of her Sunday School students when she was Superintendent over 50 years ago. The song that her "favorite nephew living in Bangor" had written and performed for us. The stories shared from drives around the island to inaugurations to welcoming in children to humorous breast cancer screening "what is love" and to daily phone conversations with your dearest friend that happened every single morning...I am constantly overwhelmed by the amazing beauty of this island that comes together when it matters most, and I am humbled that I am able to be in that space with them, to walk with them in those deep, sacred places, and that I can bear witness to how God is so present in those moments, it makes me want to weep with joy.

Ultimately, that was the message I took away from this afternoon's remembrance: Joy. Deep joy - and trust in the One who is the Source of that Joy. I love seeing the community - and I mean the whole community - gather together, funeral after funeral, and watching how they show up for each other and remember those who have passed and be there for those who are still living. I am incredibly blessed to be living here in this place, and I am incredibly blessed to be able to be present to these moments of mourning and celebration, of remembering and thanksgiving.

Joanie's service was a hard one, because she is the first funeral that I've done where I've really had the blessing of getting to know her and her story personally. A few others I've done here have also been hard - some through personal connection and a couple through circumstance - but Joan's was more personal because of that relationship in church and in Whalers and how she let me in to some of the more difficult places in her life. I will be forever grateful for that.

God bless you, Joanie. We'll miss you here...but as we all know down here, we know you're up there...and we know who's calling the shots now.

(For an adorable video of Joan reading to Michael on his first birthday, click here).

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The Day After

This morning I have sat around in a sleep-deprived stupor, scrolling and scrolling and scrolling through my Facebook feed, heating and reheating the same cup of coffee as Michael's needs have kept me away from actually sitting down, mindlessly munching some peanut M and M's, and all in all trying to be my better self.

Truth be told, I don't want to be my better self. I feel angry and sad for what our country is and what many in this nation consider acceptable moral behavior from their leader. I am angry about the fear and hate that Trump gave voice to and I worry for my friends whose lives are under threat. I grieve for children who are fearful for their friends that they may be deported or that sexual assault will now be legal or will now think that racism and misogyny are OK. I also fear for our family - what will happen when we lose our health insurance, especially in light of managing a chronic condition with expensive medication and regular screenings?

I think part of the challenge we have here is to acknowledge that Trump represents the part of our country that many of us have the luxury and privilege of denying. The (dare I say) silver lining in his election is that it exposes the reality that many minorities and those of differing religions or sexual orientations have had to grapple with every single day of their lives. We need to acknowledge and claim our complicity in creating the environment which this reality can flourish. But we have the choice to do something about it.

I know the answer lies in continuing to hold out hope for others -- we know we live in a broken world  in a nation with deeply divided core values, that government cannot legislate how we act toward one another, and that there is fundamentally good and beauty in the world. We each can individually commit to kindness and peace in our interactions with others, and to practice compassion for those we struggle to love. We can seek to understand where those we disagree with are coming from. We can also continue to fight for justice - to push back against the racist and misogynist and homophobic and xenophobic policies and practices that are in place and will undoubtedly unfold.

We can trust that God's kingdom is at hand and that we who claim the name of Jesus can work on behalf of bringing that kingdom into being, in both small ordinary ways and in extraordinary ways.

It's just damn hard sometimes.