The Grace Project

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image.jpgI give no grace to myself.

There.  I said it.  It’s been my reality for the 43 years I’ve been alive.  I’ve apologized millions of times for my existence.  My competitive nature does not play well with my graceless attitude because I compare myself with others and then give myself a tough time when I haven’t achieved the same.  I blame myself for not marrying in my twenties or thirties.  I blame myself for not having children or being at the top of my career.  I blame myself for my weight and all of my health issues (most of which I can not control).  I blame myself for the times when I fell short of my goals and dreams.

I blame myself when I forget something relatively small because I forget that I am human.

Because I am so hard on myself, I tend to really rob myself of grace when others give me a tough time about mistakes.  For some reason, ever since I was young, I believed that I needed to be my own worse critic, so when someone else is tougher on me than I am on myself, I raise my level of self-criticism.

I forget that my faith is one that is all about grace.  I neglect to acknowledge that God is pouring copious amounts of grace upon me even as I rob myself of the same. While I am generous in grace with others – mostly because that is the way I would want to be treated – I can not gift the same to myself.

Technically, living in my own critical, graceless head is hell because there is a wall between me and God’s mercy. If hell exists, it can’t be any worse than this, I now think to myself.

There have been times in my past when I’ve noticed that my soul is either filled with rage against me or completely empty.  My soul has lacked love from me, and now is the time to work on filling up that tank with something positive, not the negative it has become accustomed to.

So today I open myself up to the world of my greatest shortcoming: lacking self-grace.  Today, I move towards loving myself, knowing that I will continue to be human and continue to make mistakes.  And sometimes, what I will do will hurt someone else – not because I want it to, but because we all overlook others.  But now when I make those errors, it’s my call to begin the process of forgiveness, to extend reconciliation not only to neighbor but to self.

This new project of mine can be best summed up in the words of Florence + The Machine’s song “Shake It Out”:

And I am done with my graceless heart
So tonight I’m gonna cut it out and then restart

Dear graceless heart, it’s time for you to go.  It’s time to heal from your scars.  It’s time to embrace grace as a way of living.

Single in the Sanctuary -The 50th That Never Will Be

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single balloonThere’s a moment in many of our lives when you realize you probably may not celebrate your 50th wedding anniversary.

I’m 43 years old.  Granted, I could live to 95 or 100.  But that is banking on both people in the couple living to 95 or 100.  The average life expectancy is 79.68 here in the United States.  My oldest grandparents were nearly 86 when they died.  I would be ecstatic to live until 86, but that would mean I would “only” have a 35- or 40- year marriage, for which I would be blessed.

And still – not a 50-year marriage.

Our society as well as our churches get excited when we see couples celebrating their 50th, 60th and even 70th anniversaries.  We herald it as the way to live, as the optimal lifestyle.

But what about the people whose lives were turned over by one spouse’s death?  What happens to the wife who needs to leave her husband because the marriage is abusive?  What happens when the husband and wife grow apart, or when one spouse wakes up one morning and discovers their spouse is gone?  What happens to our LGBTQ friends who were only able to officially get married when they were 50, 60 or 70?  What happens to those of us who decide to take our time finding the right significant other because we want quality of years over quantity of years?

When I think of short marriages, Anna the prophetess comes to mind.  Luke 2 says that she “lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four.”  After the passing of Anna’s spouse, she dedicates her life to worshipping God in the temple.  Anna’s is a life worth celebrating.  Her seven year marriage was worth celebrating.  The decades of unmarried life is worth celebrating because they were spent answering God’s call.

We should still ABSOLUTELY celebrate anniversaries – like we merrily recognize birthdays and other life milestones and everything happy in life.  But we should not necessarily place quantity of years married at the top of life’s ideal.  Instead, we should place happy and healthy marriages – even short ones – as the goal of marriage (for those who feel called to get married).  We should place our own physical, mental and spiritual health and safety above what society thinks about the length of marriage.  We should place our own calls – whether to be single or married – over one particular ideal marital status.  We should marry when we feel ready to marry, not fitting ourselves into our world’s expectations.

Guess what?  This means many people will never celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary.  And that’s ok.

Churches: It’s our job to make sure that everyone is celebrated whatever they’ve achieved or milestones they have reached.  But we shouldn’t just value long marriages.  We should value relationships that are healthy.  We are called to value people of all marital statuses.  Let us celebrate all of our congregants wherever they are at in their lives and whatever they desire to celebrate.

Single in the Sanctuary – If Disney Made a Movie of Me

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imageTrending on Twitter at this very moment is #ifDisneymadeamovieofme.

So what if Disney made a movie about me…

Unlike Ariel, I would have my voice all along and it would have grown stronger.

Unlike Jasmine, I would say who I would marry and when it would happen.

Unlike Belle, I wouldn’t (and didn’t!) stay with an emotionally abusive person.

Unlike Cinderella, I wouldn’t have to fit a mold on what women are supposed to look or be like to attract a man.

Unlike Snow White or Sleeping Beauty, I wouldn’t need someone to wake me from my tired single days or rescue me from another person.

Instead, I would be the princess who wore flannel and t-shirts around the house, said what I thought, and rid myself of toxic people in my life. I would not lose myself in an attempt to find or keep a man.

Sure, there was a time when I believed in Happily Ever Afters. But we discover as we age that there is not one formula for being happy. There are both single, divorced and married people who are happy, and those of all marital statuses who aren’t. Being married does not guarantee a Happily Ever After just as being single does not mean we are incomplete.

If Disney Wrote a Story About Me, there would not be a Happily Ever After… just a Happily in This Moment.

Single in the Sanctuary – The “Love Yourself” Photo Challenge

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A number of my friends are participating in a “Love Your Spouse” photo challenge.  What this entails is that each day for a week, the individual will post a photo of them and their spouse.  It’s a cute activity in which many friends enjoy participating.

For many of us, we can’t participate in this activity.  Some of us have never been married.  Other have gotten divorced.  The photos aren’t available from people like me.

So, in order to begin a new tradition, I am starting a “Love Yourself” photo challenge.  This challenge is one that embraces the mandate in the greatest commandment “love your neighbor as yourself.”  It forces each of us to recognize the Divine image within ourselves – no matter who we are related or attached to.

And it is inclusive of all people – no matter their marital statuses.

I bring you my seven “love myself” photos below.

Fontbonne University Homecoming Dance – Fall 1992

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Many of my interesting stories begin with “when I was 19.”  In the fall of 1992, I was 19 years old, very single and very much enjoying life.  I believe this was the only time in high school or college in which I attended a formal dance on my own.  And I still had a blast.

Philadelphia – Summer 1999

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In this twentieth century selfie, I joyfully mark a trip in which I navigated around a city on my own.  Before GPS on cell phones were a thing, I utilized a paper map to find various landmarks around Philadelphia.  Through this experience, I gained a sense of freedom and confidence and have continued to traipse around big cities on my own.

My Sister’s Wedding – Fall 1999

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There is nothing easy about going to your little sister’s wedding when (1) you are not married and (2) don’t have a date to the wedding.  But I went.  I stood next to her as maid of honor, gave a toast and still walked away with my dignity.

Washington D.C. – Spring 2008

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Here I am at Ecumenical Advocacy Days, a progressive-Christian annual event to discuss justice issues.  On the last day of the event, I met with representatives of my congressional leader and senator.  In those moments, I advocated for various justice issues – specifically women and intimate partner violence.  Advocacy work energizes me as I believe it can make a difference.

Eden Theological Seminary Graduation – Spring 2010

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After years of hoping and dreaming of completing my Master of Divinity degree, I reach my successful end point on May 14, 2010.

Ordination to Ministry in Dunedin, Florida – March 6, 2011

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One of the biggest days of my life is represented in this photo.  Not only am I being ordained, I am celebrating the sacrament of communion at the table for the first time.

UCC General Synod 30 – June 2015

imageAfter writing a chapter in the book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit, I was a part of my first group book signing at the UCC General Synod in Cleveland.  Being a writer and becoming published is another lifelong dream and call which is represented here.  Thank you to Eden Theological Seminary for this photograph.

So single, married, divorced, widowed, separated and cohabitating friends – I challenge you to post your seven photos that represent your greatest self.  In doing so, remember that you are made in the image of God no matter who you are related to or what you still dream of achieving in your life.

Single in the Sanctuary – For the Record, I’m Fed Up Too

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aniston memeThis week, brave shero Jennifer Aniston wrote this brilliant op-ed on the Huffington Post regarding her frustration with the media for scrutinizing her body and family structure.  She has previously spoken out on these frustrations and chose to write a public post after some elaborate false reports that she was pregnant were plastered all over the internet.  In her most recent piece, Jennifer noted:

Here’s where I come out on this topic: we are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child. We get to decide for ourselves what is beautiful when it comes to our bodies. That decision is ours and ours alone. Let’s make that decision for ourselves and for the young women in this world who look to us as examples. Let’s make that decision consciously, outside of the tabloid noise. We don’t need to be married or mothers to be complete. We get to determine our own “happily ever after” for ourselves.

While the interrogation of my life never usually includes whether or not I’m pregnant, there are similar questions circling me whenever I’ve been in a significant relationship for a while:

Have you started talking about getting married?
Do you think you two will get married someday?
Do you think he wants to get married someday?
When do you think you’ll get married?
You think he’ll propose during (fill in the blank)?

Admittedly, being interrogated like this was much much worse in my early 20’s when everyone around me was pairing up and getting engaged.  When I wasn’t dating, I was being grilled with the “are you dating someone” questions.  And if I was married, I would be asked when I would be starting a family.

All I want to say in my increasing anxiety and frustration is “BACK OFF!”

Now, I don’t mind a question like this from my six year old niece because children have no filter to their curiosity.  But a thirty, forty or seventy-something should know better.

I get it: people really want to see me get my “happily ever after.”  Or maybe they are just curious.  Or maybe there are one or two people out there who really want to know how my life has not come together.  Who knows…  Overall, it makes me feel invaded, odd and, in many ways, shamed for what I have or have not done yet with my life.

I must confess that I’ve taken part in a system that places expectations on other people.  I read tabloids that steal moments and fabricate stories about celebrities.  I’ve asked people about the relationship in the past.  And for being a part of a system that tries to pigeonhole women, I am truly sorry.

Almost two years ago, I wrote this post about Jennifer Aniston and her frustration with this checklist everyone thinks she should have accomplished.  Yesterday, I watched a video of the “Magnificent Seven,” or the seven U.S. women gymnasts who won the gold medal for gymnastics in 1996.  They were all in one place, updating the world on their lives and reflecting back on their stunning achievement.  As one of the Olympians stated “Twenty years later, it’s good just to see that everyone’s happy, everyone’s healthy, everyone is married (and) either starting families or have families of their own.”

What if they hadn’t all gotten married or planned on starting families?  Would they have been incomplete as an individual or a group?

It comes down to what we believe full completion is in a human being – especially a woman.  It isn’t enough that she just is a human being caring for other human beings in the world.  It isn’t enough that she is made in the image of God.  She must also be married and have children.  And we will keep asking those questions and begging to read more until her life finds this level of completion.

Jennifer and everyone else, I’ve grown tired of this narrative too.  I’m tired of feeling like I need to explain or justify to people the progression of my relationship.  I’m tired of trying to fit into the world’s expectations of what I should have accomplished by 43.  It’s no one’s business except mine, my significant other’s and God’s.  When the time is right, we will take our relationship to the next step…

You know what?  I don’t even need to say that.

And like Jennifer, I will be the one to tell you when I’m engaged or when I’m getting married.  I will be the one who tells you when anything big happens in my life… if and when I feel like it.  Like Jennifer, there are things I want with my life as well.  But life doesn’t happen in a prescribed time, and sometimes we just want to live without the painful reminder of what we should have.

Every time one of these questions pops into our heads about our cousins, co-workers or celebrities, maybe we need to change focus.  As Paul says to the Thessalonians “we urge you, beloved to (love) more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs…”  It’s time for us to love one another where we are at right now without setting our minds completely on the future and what they may or may not bring.

In the meantime, I will work to enjoy the valuable small moments in life – with my significant other, with my friends and with myself.  Life isn’t about waiting for the big moments.  It’s about cherishing the sunshine in between the clouds.

 

Pokémon Go, Reloading and Sabbaths

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Apparently, our church is a Pokémon Go PokéStop.

What does this mean?  While I’m new to the game, I believe a PokéStop is a location where people can reload on supplies they need to capture the monsters.

My church, St. Paul United Church of Christ in Colerain Township, Cincinnati, is a PokéStop.  At first, I didn’t know this, and I’m not exactly sure how we became one.  After watching a few new people walking around our church building and then installing the app myself, I can indeed confirm that we are a PokéStop.

While church may not be a destination for younger people, PokéStops are.  So how can we merge virtual life and spiritual life into one location?

Remember the Sabbath.

Times and spaces to reload are important for all people.  Some choose faith communities.  Others choose sporting activities, arts or fellowship activities.  These are activities that give something back to our souls.

Church was already a PokéStop in the game of life.  It has been and should always be a place in which we can recharge our batteries and reload on spiritual energy for the new week.  Sometimes we get away from the idea that Sabbath is for reloading on spiritual fuel.  While we may come to church to give to God, we are also finding supplies for our soul.  God gave us the Sabbath for us to find renewal.  As Jesus says in Mark 2, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not the humankind for Sabbath.”

In our time of reloading, or Sabbath, may wee all see God a little clearer, each other with more love, and find spiritual supplies to help us manage life throughout the week.

 

 

Single in the Sanctuary- Eating Alone

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imageI remember when my sister would see an older man or woman sitting alone. She and my mom would remark how sorry they felt for that elderly person dining by themselves. Maybe there was an energy surrounding them that reflected sadness.

Does there exist a lack of sadness for the thirty or forty year old who eats alone? Did an older person’s more-likely involuntary solitude beg for more empathy? Are younger people looked as having more resilience or is there a mentality out there that we are somehow defective or choose to be alone or fully content in our solitude?

I’ll say this: sometimes solitude is welcomed, even by this extrovert. Nowadays, we have the beauty of smart phones to give us the look of preoccupation in our aloneness. But sometimes the silence of solitude is so overwhelming that I ache from the lack of conversation.

I don’t want to be pitied for my solitude as my life is fairly full. But I wonder: does a person whose age is far greater deserve more empathy? Maybe so- especially if they just recently lost a spouse or partner. While sometimes the only option is eating alone, but do those of us who settle for solo meals sell ourselves short by settling for company-less dinners and lunches?

For faith communities: What can we do as a church so that solo people of all ages have the company they desire for more of their meals?

Single in the Sanctuary: To the Table of Moms

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Dear table of moms at my favorite coffee house,

It was a lovely day. I needed to complete some work and I chose to sit outside. But after a very short while, I had to move inside.

You see, your conversation was breaking my heart.

I’m a childless women. It wasn’t something I necessarily chose for myself. Due to life’s timing and reproductive health issues, having children doesn’t seem like the best option for me.

But you didn’t take into consideration when your conversation was loud enough to hear on the patio.

You first complain about the childless women who make judgments on parenting. I’ll give you that one. We don’t have the right to be a Monday morning quarterback when it comes to your children, especially since we don’t know what challenges your children may have.

But then you started talking about the women who look at their pets like children among some other snide comments. While I’m not one, I know women who do consider their pets like children. There are a number of reasons women don’t have children- out of choice or out of circumstance. But just like you don’t want us to make fun of your parenting styles, we don’t want you to make fun of the way we live our lives. We don’t know what you go through; you don’t know what we go through either.

The condescending tone was too much for me. I haven’t quite transcended the way life has happened for me and attained peace with it.

And that’s when I moved inside.

I thought about chatting with you about your derogatory tone. Maybe I would start a conversation about how difficult it is to be unmarried without children or married with children or married without children and with two dogs.

But sometimes we don’t have the energy to educate you through our pain. So I moved inside on this beautiful day. It was my choice, but it was the healthiest choice for me.

So, if any of you happen to read this, just be sensitive to the women surrounding you. There may still be a piece of us who are envious of your life, of your privilege to connect with mommy groups, of being able to attain the family structure you dreamed of when you were a child. You don’t know what the roads we’ve been on and the dreams dropped along the way. You may not have a cycle or biology that has reminded you on a monthly basis that bearing children would be an uphill battle.

Women of family structure privilege: complain about us or make fun of us if you must make yourselves feel better this way, but just do so in private spaces. Know that there are people surrounding you that are trying to heal and your voice is reopening wounds.

 

Single in the Sanctuary – The Many Stories

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red-love-heart-oldEver since starting the Single in the Sanctuary group on Facebook as well as lead a couple of speaking engagements, I’ve had people share their stories with me.  It’s been an amazing experience to learn about the roads our friends have been on over the course of their lives.

After hearing many stories, I see that there are some overlaps to many of our stories.  We share similar sentiments of loneliness.  Often, we wrestle when hope is lost.

But while a few of our stories are alike in many ways, each of our stories of being unmarried has distinct differences just like our DNA and fingerprints.  Because of these vast differences, we can’t speak for someone else.  Again, I was reminded of this – especially in light of the shooting at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando as well as what safety and sanctuary mean to LGBTQ people.

I can only speak for myself: an educated, straight white never-been-married cis-female.  Granted, I’ve gone through some tough times being single throughout my twenties and thirties.  Just by being a woman, there have been times when I’ve felt extremely unsafe.  But my issues have minimal intersectionality issues, and I am extremely privileged.  I’ve never faced what it means to be a person who is queer.  I’ve never experienced what it means to be a single woman of color.  Being a progressive Christian, I’ve also never experienced what a Jewish or Muslim woman has experienced.

As I reflect, some questions have come to mind: How would a person of color experience never being married?  What would it be like to be a person of another faith who is getting divorced?  How many more layers of difficulty in dating exist for a transgender person?  How do lesbian, gay and bisexual people navigate the healing process for abusive relationships?

Of course, no one is required to tell us their stories unless they are ready to talk and they feel safe speaking with us.  But what we as people of privilege within the unmarried spectrum need to understand is that there are friends who must deal with many additional layers of challenges.

All that any of us as people of privilege can do is allow space for all unmarried open-minded Christians to speak without interruption or trying to explain their experience for them, especially those whose stories are vastly different than ours.  And my job, in return, is to learn as much as possible from them when they are ready to share.

I will continue to tell my story.  But it is only one story in the sea of many.  My experience is only my experience, and it is one that is fairly privileged.  May the God in whose image we are all made give us the courage, strength and power to tell our stories and the patience to listen to the narratives of others.

 

For Such a Time as This…

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“For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.’”

Esther 4:14

For such a time as this…

Sometimes we don’t want to shake our current placid state.  Everyone in our cozy corner of the world is (fairly) happy…

And then 50 people are killed and another 50 or so injured by a solo bigoted, biased, homophobic hate-filled shooter.  In our cozy corner of the world, we have the privilege to close our eyes, bask in the sun for the rest of the day and forget that tragic incident happened early yesterday morning in Orlando, Florida.

We dodge conversations on the discrimination that happens to our friends of color, the ugly words thrown at our LGBTQ friends, the catcalls and assaults and violence in homes that happens to our sisters, the ways that Muslims feel threatened just by living in this country.  We can point our fingers at everyone else that doesn’t look anything like us.  It’s their fault… It has to be… I’m just sitting on my cozy corner minding my own business.

But when the hateful rhetoric in our country is getting louder and louder and more people are dying and being abused because of their color, religion, sexual orientation, gender/gender identity/gender expression, then we as people of faith need to stop sitting in our cozy corners and get ourselves out into the world.

For such a time as this, we are called to listen to stories without judgment.

For such a time as this, we are called to open our mouths and speak out every single time we hear hate.

For such a time as this, we are called to be the voice of love in our world.

Esther could have sat in her cozy corner of the world.  She could have allowed her kin to be massacred.  Instead, she risked her own life to stand up for the lives and well being of others.

Are we willing to do the same?  Am I willing to do the same?

For such a time as this, are we willing to call out the voices of hate?  When hearing such hateful words against our sisters and brothers, are we willing to name such animosity?

Are we willing to say that our LGBT sisters and brothers are loved by God for who they are?

Are we willing to say that the lives of our sisters and brothers of color matter?

Are we willing to say that the bodies of our sisters are to be respected?

Are we willing to say that our Muslim sisters and brothers shine the light and love of God in our world and that the stereotypes are wrong?

Are we willing to say that our transgender friends are loved by God just as they are?

Are we willing to say all of these words aloud, risking our lives and livelihoods like Esther?

Will we use our privilege to listen, learn and speak to other people of privilege at such a time as this?

May the loving arms of God surround the survivors in Orlando as they heal in body, mind and soul.  May the peace of God surround the grieving family members and friends as they come to terms with the violence and hate that robbed them of their loved ones.  May the strength of God carry our LGBT, Latinx and Muslim friends as they navigate a world still so threatening.  And may God give all of us the courage to speak out against hate in our world.  Amen.