When Cheesecake Is More Than Cheesecake

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cheesecake picToday, Mother’s Day 2017, I went to lunch with some people from church.  I was the only non-mom female adult in the group.

It was wonderful catching up and spending time with this group of people.  When the end of the meal came, the other women at the table received a free piece of cheesecake.

I did not.

Now, I was planning on spending my dessert calories elsewhere in the day (as I had a free coupon for a sundae that I was looking forward to).  While the cheesecake looked delicious, I wasn’t as disappointed that I wasn’t eating cheesecake as much as what that cheesecake represented.

That dessert represented the haves and the have nots when it comes to family structures.

I continue to claim the status of somewhere between childhood and childfree.  Most days, I am content with not having children, I suppose.  While 360 days of the year I’m fine (or have, at least, convinced myself I am fine) not having children, certain holidays roll around each year, reminding me of what I don’t have.

For instance, there’s Christmas morning in which I don’t have children waking me up, excited about getting presents.  Then there’s Easter Day, when families all sit together with children beaming from the Easter Bunny excitement.

And it feels like a knife cuts into my soul.

I was already having a rough day due to what Mother’s Day means to me: a day representing dreams that didn’t happen.  Each year, I never expect it to impact me as it does until the day rolls around and I’m dealing with aches in my heart every time I see photos of friends with their children, knowing that isn’t the same path my life took.

There’s the primary source of sadness and grief: not having children.  But when a piece of cake comes out for all of the other women at your table, you realize that your path is so very different from the path of your sisters, and grieve a secondary loss of being looked over by society.

And that’s why I encourage churches to take an inclusive approach to this holiday by praying for all women on Mother’s Day – the ones with children and the ones who face childlessness.  We pray for the ones beaming with joy and the ones who would rather not come to church on this Sunday.

Many women refused to go to churches on Mother’s Day because of the glorification mothers receive.  At the church I serve, we recognize that Mother’s Day is about being a mother and being part of the process of mothering.  All women (and all people) fit into the latter category as it really does take a village to raise children.

I’m pleased to be one of many pastors who is bringing a new inclusive way of recognizing Mother’s Day to churches.

I just wish restaurants would catch up…

The Pastor’s Tale

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hideAs I stood at the communion table on Sunday morning, what breezed through my mind was a world in which I could no longer be a pastor because of my gender.  I suppose this came to my mind since I had been watching The Handmaid’s Tale and reading various news stories about women.  I worried about the end of pastoral opportunities for women.  And so, I bring you this piece of pastoral dystopia.

*****

I was beginning to become flushed again.  Middle-aged and hot flashes.  But, of course, no air conditioning in the house we were abiding within.

We were just happy to be there – happy to be living with our sisters in Christ.  We were delighted to be able to spend time laughing together – talking about our clergy stories and anecdotes of life in and out of the pulpit.  We were living in a time when we could be completely ourselves and, yet, continuously on edge that something devastating could be happening in the next few minutes.

They might find us.  They might find us and kill us.

My dad was my government teacher.  Now, I was only a teenager at that point, so I don’t remember everything.  But what I do remember was that my dad told us in class that he would be one rounded up and killed under some regimes.

Why?  Because he was an agent of change.  He spoke about politics and government.  And he wanted us to think for ourselves.

Fortunately, that was thirty years ago, and he was able to freely practice his calling as a teacher-

And only thirty years later, I wish I had that same freedom.

I became a pastor in my late thirties after sensing a calling ten years earlier.  The beauty of my ordination day was being able to stand at the table and boldly claim the words of Christ…

“On the night before he died… he took the bread… he took the cup…”

What a moment in my life to be celebrated.  Finally, I was able to live fully into my calling.

But less than a decade later, things began to change.  More women were being laid off from jobs- fired, thanks to the fundamentalists in power.  More propaganda drove the importance of women birthing children.  “Women shall be saved through childbearing” was the mantra we heard over and over.

I wasn’t called to be a mother.  I thought that was my path at one point, but then my fallopian tubes twisted and turned.  Meeting the “right guy” didn’t happen until close to perimenopause anyway, so the chance of babies happening were decreasing with every breath.

And while I was mostly content with the way life turned out, hearing them chant the mantra over and over again was a knife through my heart.

Are we more than our uteruses?  That’s what we would ask ourselves.  I felt like I was no more than one or two organs in my body.

Number forty-six became president just a little before I turned forty-six.  And I was out on the streets protesting his every word and every act.  He was a “good Christian man” according to some of our colleagues.  Morality was his focus.  Making families great again was his vision and his mission.  He wanted women to be baby-making Stepford Wives… submissive, subservient, and silent.

And this was not who I was or who I was called to be.  I was more than my uterus and milk ducts.

I considered moving to Canada to find a pastoral position there, but many women were doing the same, so the chance of finding a job was minimal.

Eventually, mine name was put on a list – along with the names of fellow female clergy.  We were the enemy.  We had said too much and protested too often.  We were responding to the call of God to oppose the current theocratic system in place.

I didn’t know what to do.  I was in a constant state of anxiety – especially losing my agency after being so independent.  I kissed my loved ones goodbye, because I knew they would find me with them.

And I went underground with my sisters of the cloth.

Some were very pregnant with their own child, but since their names were on the list, they too were enemies of the state.  Others of us were heading into our peri- or menopausal years.  We knew one another well.  We knew that we were more than our wombs and were willing to live in a community that cherished our agency.

We weren’t sure what forty-six’s administration did with the women clergy they caught.  Were they dead?  Were they forced into marriages?  What about our lesbian sisters – were they able to love their spouses freely anymore, or were they sent to camps?

If they caught us, where would we go?  The camps?  Prison?  Would we be tried and killed?

This was our fear.  Every day.

And yet we comforted each other every day.  We sang songs, talked about our great loves, the adventures we had pre-ministry and even some during our clergy days.  We would binge watch the DVD shows smuggled into the safe house.  A couple of our clergy brothers would bring us what we needed a couple of times per week, but otherwise, we weren’t exiting our current abode.

The one ritual we made sure to embrace was communion.  Each night, right before retiring to our corners of the home, we would bring out a few pieces of bread.  And every night we would take turns repeating the words that Jesus gave us – right when he was about to be captured.  We knew that if we were captured we would follow in the steps of Jesus the Christ as we were faithful to the end.

Tonight was my night to lead.  Would this be the last time I spoke the words of institution?  Would they be coming for us tomorrow like they did with Jesus?  Would I be ripped from this space and forced into a life where I couldn’t say those words again?

On the night before Jesus died, he took the bread and broke it…

Lifting the break and tearing it apart, I wondered if my body would be torn to pieces.

Likewise, after supper, Jesus took the cup and blessed it…

I passed it around, knowing that we could all be drinking from the same cup of Christ because of our choices to remain faithful to our calling and to God.

As the drops of juice filled my mouth and I swallowed it, a tear slid down my face.  It wasn’t the only tear in the room, and I didn’t feel the need to hide it.  We were in the valley of the shadow of death, and I still feared evil.  I may sense the presence of God next to me, but much of the Body of Christ wanted to amputate us, discarding us into a wasteland they created from their distorted relationship with the Divine.

At least tonight – maybe for the last time – we were once again given a table in the presence of our enemies, remembering the boldness of Jesus the Christ.

 

*****

Note that I want to add a short while after publishing this post:

I wrote this from my perspective which is still very privileged. But I don’t want to forget about the people who were not able to get ordained because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or race and whose standing was taken away because of their sexual orientation. We should be working every day to ensure that all people are able to freely live into their callings.

 

Lent Day 26: A Prayer for When I Want to Quit Writing

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God of the infinite who abides in the finite,
You ask me to keep writing, keep writing, keep writing.

But does it really matter?

Does anyone really read my material?
Does it make a difference in anyone’s life?
Does anyone want to forward it?

Is my ego in the way?

The words flow freely at times
And other times, they are immobile as in clogged pipe.
So why do I bother to write when I feel like the words aren’t there
And they matter little?

Set my sometimes-too-large and sometimes-too-small ego to the side.
Help me realize that I’m a vessel for holy words and not a blogging prima donna,
And that there will be times when my work creates change in the world,
There will be times when they make no difference,
And there are times when it causes controversy.

Ignite the spiritual fire within my being to live into my call
With creativity and courage.

God of all spaces and times,
Pursue me if it looks as if I will quit,
If writings are rejected,
And I feel like my calling makes no difference.

Remind me each day that I use these gifts to glorify you,
To create a justice-filled world,
And to take the droplets of love and fill them into the gaps of our fractured world.  Amen.

April, Fiona, and the People We Are Missing

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pexels-photo-83901This article was originally published at the SONKA UCC blog.

Like much of the greater Cincinnati area, I’ve been following the progress of the young hippopotamus Fiona. It’s amazing and inspirational to see her improvement each week. Likewise, I pop in to see how the gestational period of April the giraffe is progressing. It’s a nice distraction from the tough stories we read about in the news or the difficulties in our own lives.

But as we focus our attention on April and Fiona, what is going on with the stories we don’t hear much about?

The other day, I saw a story on how 14 young women of color went missing in the Washington D.C. area in one day. The information was not correct. However, as solid facts became more visible, we still see a pattern of young people (especially women) of color disappearing in the area. While the numbers have been decreasing in the past couple of years, there is still concern for the number of women of color who are missing.

Assumptions are made on their disappearance, believing that they ran away instead of considering that something more sinister is happening, like kidnapping and human trafficking. If the young women did run away, some have not been investigating why they left as there could be abuse in the home. Little media attention has been given to the issue – especially if the missing person is a person of color.

While the false claims of the initial post drew me into the conversation, as I did more investigating online, I still noticed that young women of color were still not given the media attention they deserved.

And while I love to see hippo Fiona making progress and giraffe April waiting to have her calf, our call is to make certain that news stories about marginalized human beings have just as much media attention.

Do we pay more attention to animals and some human beings of privilege than other human beings in our society? Do people who are marginalized feel like the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7, just wanting the equivalent of attention to their well-being as we give Fiona the hippo or April the giraffe?

What can we do to be an active part of making people aware of critical issues? First and foremost, we work to ensure that we are following and reposting information that is factual.  Secondly, we post information that can raise awareness of issues of groups of people who have been largely ignored by news stories. We talk about these issues in our worship services and in other faith formation opportunities in our congregations. Third, we work to remove our own biases to see that humans very different than us are experiencing real challenges in their lives that we cannot understand. We avoid assuming that their behaviors are done out of defiance and rebelliousness and, instead, ask for investigations into why they are missing or leaving home.

It’s a wonderful break from the ugliness in our world to see Fiona growing and April about to give birth. But through social media and our networks, we are given the opportunity to discover what is going on with our sisters and brothers on this earth and work to guarantee that they are treated as we would want to be treated. Young women of color’s lives matter, they are children of God and made in God’s image.

Lent Day 20: A Prayer in Listening for God’s Call

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Divine Paver of Paths,

As we continue in the wilderness journey of Lent
Our hearts are open as we listen for your call.

This is the time when we focus on where you intend for us to go.
This is the season for us to listen… and listen more.

Whether we have come across a fork in the road
Or we have a large stone blocking our next steps
This is the time we look to you, God.

We are called to serve you… but how?
Where are you calling us?
What gifts will we use?
We continue to be open and wish we could hear you more clearly.

So we will trust that your voice will come through when it’s time for us to move.
We believe that all will come together.
We step in faith even when fog covers our passage
And we know you are with us in every step.  Amen.

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Lent Prayer Day 13 – A Prayer for Our Trauma Triggers

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God of the connections between yesterday and today…

The past lingers behind us closely like shadows- a sinister presence that we are never able to completely leave behind.

One word. One smell. One song, and we are ushered back into the cobweb-filled corners of our souls.

One conversation on the television. One article online, and we are transported to a place we never thought we would relive.

The words that beat her up reminds us of the words that pummeled our souls. The sharpness of images are razors to our minds.

Now that we are stuck in a yesterday place, God, drive us back to today.

Grasp our hands as we work together to close the doors that have remained opened for decades. Be like cool waters and wash over our bruised souls to renew us.

Grant that today is reserved for today only- with just bits of room set aside for happy snapshots of the past and tomorrow’s dreams. Amen.

Today, I Persisted

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img_7961About a month ago, in the midst of my horrific pain, I wrote most of this blog post.

Today, bits of the pain still linger, but I feel much better already. Yet reading this which I wrote when I felt so much less hopeless makes me realize how far I’ve come and reminds me of my persistence and resilience.

And so, on this International Women’s Day, I share with you.

At this point of my life, I needed to hear he word “persist” over and over and over again.

Thanks to the resilience of U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, words written by Corretta Scott King were brought alive again in order to protect our Union.

Of course, like most women even in the twenty-first century, we are shushed, told our opinion does not matter, or ignored altogether.

I try to acknowledge this over and over. But sometimes, I’m not privileged. Sometimes, I’m muddling through life with a belly full of ache and a energy system that is zapped. My skin color is privileged, but my insides ache and hold me back.

Once again, I’m struggling with endometriosis.

I’ve learned well how to push through the pain to achieve what I need to. But sometimes it’s just not enough to barely make it through to survive. I work, but I’m not fully living.

When I read all of the sexism and misogyny that’s happening in our country and world, and I see what friends have and do experience, it’s time to claim that we deserve more than the crumbs under the table. We deserve to have health and food and equality. We deserve for our voices to be heard.

And at a time when my pelvis aches and my aggravation increases daily with the dismissal and silencing of women, hearing the word “persistence” and the stories to go along with the word is refreshing.

We need to hear the stories of our sisters who worked for suffrage. We need not only to listen to the stories of our sisters of color, transgender sisters, and lesbian sister, but acknowledge the additional hurdles they have overcome. We need to tell each other our tales and not dismiss what another woman says because we haven’t experienced the same.

I needed the tenacity of Elizabeth Warren today. I need the enduring words of Corretta Scott King. I need to see Malala Yousafzai rising from her injuries and advocating for women all over the world. I still need to see the presence of Hillary in public and private because- even after all of the criticisms and losses, she still continues on. I need the stories of the women in Scripture who persisted: the Syrophoenician woman, the woman with the hemorrhage, Tamar, Vashti, Esther, and more. And I need to hear the stories of my endosisters who continue on one procedure to the next but never giving up.

The more we see women pushing and pushing beyond the boundaries of “no” and “maybe later” to “yes” and rising from the ashes of pain and failure and sexism, the faster we will heal in body, mind, and soul.

 

Lent Day 7: A Prayer for Completing Reports

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God of all spaces-
Including the ones that need to be filled on paper-
May your Spirit bring together symbols and letters and numbers
As I complete this report.

With the work almost as loathsome as taxes,
I approach the paper or online form
With trepidation and exhaustion.

If ever there is a time I would think that you roll your eyes at me,
Divine Parent,
It’s when a report is due.

Psalm 139 says that you know me and have searched me
So you know that my perfectionist ways
Weigh my soul as I finish this project.

May I stop overanalyzing and overthinking,
May I stop getting distracted
And picking up my phone to Facebook or online news
And finish the darn thing.

And when I complete this dreadful assignment, God,
Help me find a way to celebrate this ghastly simple task
With a nap.

Amen.

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Lent Day 2: A Prayer for Cabin Fever

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pexels-boredomGod of the details and big pictures,
Of each cell in our brains and beat of our hearts,
We come to you in our blasé state.

When counting cracks in the wall
Or watching the second hand on the clock,
Cabin fever has officially exceeded its maximum tolerated time.

Winter needs to leave.
The snow has stayed too late.
The chills have overtaken every corner of our habitat.
And spring yearns to exhibit her blossoms.

The aches in our bodies have lingered
There is only so many game shows to watch
Or hours of Netflix to binge
Before our insides feel worse than our outsides.

Cabin fever-
When life situations hold us hostage
While adventures call to us for a rendezvous once again.

God of wellness and warmth,
Refresh our spirit in this season of stillness.
Change our situation so that we can resume our daily living.
Grant us the strength to find excitement again.

And as we wait for what we can’t alter to change
Convert our hearts to find joy in this moment-
Spotting the colors above us
Seeking the music surrounding us
And embracing the beauty of each ceiling crack and tick of the clock.

Amen.

 

Ash Wednesday and Human Fragility

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imageToday, I was reminded of my fragility.

It didn’t happen at an Ash Wednesday service.  I wish I could have led one today, immersing my thumb in oil and ashes, looking into the eyes of fellow humans, and reminding them that we come from dust and we will head back there again later in our lives.

Instead, I got my own Ash Wednesday lesson in the form of pain, shots, and a nod to my human frailness from a nurse practitioner.

As I’ve mentioned on this blog a few times recently, I had surgery for my endometriosis.  While I was expecting the recover to go much like it did last time (SWIFT!), unfortunately, the amount of endometriosis and adhesions were greater so more tissue needed to be removed.  That usually means that recovery will reflect the heightened intensity of my endometriosis and what needed to be done during the surgery.

I didn’t return to work on Tuesday.  The pain was bad.  I had a low-grade fever.  And because of all of the discomfort, I met with the nurse practitioner in at the doctor’s office.  Tarodol shot #1 happend on Tuesday, but it didn’t help much.

Sleep was restless, but I was going to be a delusional hero and push through.  Even as late as Wednesday morning, I was intending to go to the Ash Wednesday service.  Earlier in the day, I was still in pain, having problems sleeping and then needing to sleep.  I called back into the doctor for a third day in a row.  They urged me to come back in for my second Tarodol shot in two days for the pain.

While in the office, I saw the nurse practitioner.  Reflecting on our conversation from Tuesday, she noted that I needed to take the extra time to rest.  “For the first surgery, taking one week off to recover makes sense.  For your twenty-fifth surgery (she meant third), you need a couple of weeks.”

Noooooooooooooo!

Laparoscopic surgeries for endometriosis aren’t like knee or shoulder surgeries.  You don’t have wraps or slings or crutches.  Under my shirts and comfy stretch drawstring pants are three fresh scars.  That’s all I see, and others don’t see any of that.  So I don’t look that bad.  And I still don’t know what my insides looked like during the surgery.  I’ll see pictures next week.  In the meantime, I just see three healing scars.  And what I forget is that I may have healed well on the outside, but my internal cells, tissue, and organs are trying to achieve full restoration. .

I look back at my previous laparoscopic experiences.  After my first laparoscopic surgery for endometriosis at the age of 30, I had a long weekend to recover.  Thursday was the surgery, and I was back to work on Monday.  Frankly, I wasn’t ready to return to work, but I mastered the art of pushing myself even when I was sick.

For the second surgery at 39, I took a week – maybe a week and a day.  Like the first surgery, I was still stage 2 endometriosis.

This surgery at the age of 43 – We are going on one week and two days.  I’m not 30 anymore, and based on the report of many adhesions, I’m probably beyond stage 2 endometriosis (the stage diagnosed during the first two surgeries).

Thankfully, my wonderful ecumenical colleagues in ministry were able to lead the service tonight without my presence.  This came in the form of a group email giving me grace and the permission to rest.

Ash Wednesday in pain.  And so I thought to myself out loud in a Tweet:

My pain and my inability to live fully on Ash Wednesday were more symbolic than any ash could give me.  I’m limited.  I’m mortal.  I’m fragile.  I can’t keep going the way I normally do right now because my human body is healing.  I need help.  God knows this.  Other humans know this.

Why can’t I accept this?

Sigh.