Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Emptying the "God Box"

When my grandmother was a young mother, she noted that she would fret over things for which she had no control--worries about work, about her children, about the ministry she and her husband fulfilled. Somewhere in her younger years, she grabbed an empty cookie jar, wrote her worries on slips of paper, and placed them in the jar. She symbolically and literally "handed them over to God," and let them go at that time.

In a few weeks or months she would peer back into the jar to assess just what had happened with her worries. If they were still unresolved, back to the jar they would go. If they were taken care of, she would say a prayer of gratitude and toss those slips away....another set of prayers answered. It was particularly moving for all of us at her memorial service to see a cookie jar beside her picture--the perfect symbol of how she lived her life.

A couple of years ago, at a period when my own work was growing exponentially, I grabbed an empty tissue box at work, wrote a few concerns on post-it notes, and placed them in the box. I'm sure I once or twice checked back in on those worries, but I hadn't in quite sometime. As I'm here early on the day before Thanksgiving, it seemed the perfect time to empty the box and see what worries are continuing, and what concerns have already been addressed. To my happy surprise, all three of those post-it notes have been answered in some way.

*The Laura Johnson Institute--coordinating the pieces; getting things off the ground

"LJI," as the program is affectionately referred to by participants, is now in its second year, and just yesterday I sat with a group of women creating plans for a reunion for the year one group. The first cohort is about to launch a program for women graduate students--a program of their own design modeled after their own leadership development experience. Not only did we get things off the ground, we are soaring. In fact, the creation of this program is reshaping the board's conceptions of the future of WELFund. Was my prayer answered? Resoundingly, yes!

*Awaiting on external mark of a call...recognition of what is happening within

I can count a number of times recently when people have indicated they can see the minister within me emerging. When I shared my "faith story" during church this fall, I felt deeply moved by my own message "of the Spirit," and it was apparent that others were moved, too. While sometimes the response was simply words of thanks and praise, one woman looked me in the eye and said, "You know--YOU would make a great minister." When I was on a retreat with a group of women pastors, one of them commented that I have a strong voice for preaching. I was invited by the president of Hartford Seminary to say the Christian prayer at the dedication of their new interfaith building, and received a strong, positive response to my participation. Little bits and pieces...words of encouragement. Exactly where this "ministry" will be, I have no idea--as I also get a lot of feedback about my own calling to this place and this point in time, but I know it is within me, and I'm grateful for all those outside of me who have recognized it.

*Seminary--to go? how? where? how to pay? Help me, God, to hear your call....

I am now happily enrolled in the Master of Arts in Spirituality program at Hartford Seminary, after a great deal of soul-searching, seminary-visiting, and family considerations. It became such an obvious answer that it's a wonder I even had to search for it. I feel the world evolving to greater attention to "the space between," and Hartford's history and emphasis on interfaith engagement is particularly powerful. The program echoes of some of my prior experiences in dialogue, and feels like a fit for me and some of the alternative ministries I might create--including at a college or university. I receive one free course a semester, and I am stepping forward in the spring to take two, requesting funds of work, church, family, and anyone who will sit still long enough to listen to my plans. Despite Matt not working for the past year, I trust that the money will be there, one course at a time. Whether or not I will go further, seeking a Master of Divinity in the future, remains to be seen, but the answer for this moment is resoundingly clear, once again.

Thank you, Nana, and God, for the God-Box. I added two new post-its this morning--can't wait to see how they will be answered!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Dreaming big dreams....

I've been thinking lately about dreams--those goals and desires around which we shape our choices, our resources, our time. At a very young age, I sought to capture the joy of any single moment with a long-term plan--a compulsion natural to my personality, I suspect, and one I have been struggling to shake since then. I can still recall being eight or so years old, swimming lap after lap in the pool of a family friend. I would beg her and my mom to time me, certain that if I could continue to shave seconds off with each successive lap, I could somehow prove that I was a future Olympic athlete! If you love it, might as well make a life out of it--and be the best, performing at the pinnacle of possibility.

In truth, I haven't entirely lost this drive to somehow be "best" at whatever it is I am doing. In fact, part of my present job is to challenge more women to contemplate "the pinnacle of possibility." As I work in higher education, this takes the form of urging them to consider being a college or university president. I'm willing to accept that not all will choose the path, but I want every single one of them to believe that it is possible and make an honest, reflective choice. But do I honestly wish to be best, or somehow climb to the top, and would I wish this for my children?

I've been thinking it just might be time to make a new list of dreams. I sense this every time I pick up my guitar, and I form the earliest version of callouses that would suggest I am ready to become a serious player. I'll never receive a dime for playing the guitar, but gosh, do I love it. I'd like for my kids to one day remember me giving myself over to these kinds of passions. Matt and I are movie-obsessed--he more than I, but both of us have dedicated countless hours to independent films. (Last night was "Man on a Wire" about the French wirewalker who graced NYC with a walk amongst the clouds between the World Trade Center towers--surely this film in part inspired this post....) I love to think in the future that our children will remember us as curled around one another on the love seat downstairs, exploring the world and its possibilities through the lens of some cultural creative. I want them to know that I loved to dance--and though my public dancing days are likely over, it's time we revive our family "dance party" tradition we used to maintain each evening before bed.

What other dreams have we already fulfilled, or might we fulfill now--no future schooling needed, no funds stored up in the bank? Matt makes a mean margharita, and we have certainly been enjoying this talent over the last couple of weeks. I can manage to look in the refrigerator most any evening and create a decent meal out of leftovers. We've picked up a new bedtime routine--spontaneous song-writing, where the kids provide me with 3,4,5,20 seemingly unlike concepts, and I weave them all together into a bedtime song. Potty humor abounds, given that the kids are five and eight, but these precious moments are certainly fulfilling the dream of helping my children to smile just a little bit more each day.

I dreamt for me--and I dream for them--that I would live my life with a companion who would love me deeply and welcome all of me....and this dream is fulfilled each and every day. I want to soak up these moments more, be present for all of them. I'm not terribly concerned if people can say of me that I was the best at any one thing I did--but please, God, let it be said that I was the best at living my life, moment by moment, laid out before me as only I can notice, receive, and acknowledge.

Can you imagine a dream bigger than this? I surely can't....

Saturday, January 10, 2009


When we first brought a dog into the family this summer, the walking was a treasured addition to our daily routine. My shift was the morning; Matt's at night. While there were days when it was hard to wake to an earlier alarm, the reward was always so rich, I'd come home filled with gratitude that the responsibility of Ty was bringing me more fully into the natural world surrounding our home.

Our street is set just above the Farmington River, and the bend below our neighborhood leads into a section of rapids suitable for Olympic training. We see enough calm in the water to have our own hearts stilled, but enough action brewing to know that the river is powerful and swift--not for the faint of heart by kayak, canoe or on foot.

Whether climbing over fallen tree limbs beside the river, or hiking up the "mountainside" roads, we knew the summer walks were a gift that winter walks might not be. We celebrated wisely claiming the dog while it was still easy...when the difficult "Please don't make me go out there in that" weather was still months off.

Winter is upon us, and we have seen plenty of New England winter weather to remind us. Two snowstorms sandwiched Christmas in a world of white, and ice kept our kids out of school for some part of nearly every day this past week. There have indeed been mornings and evenings when the wind whips so strong and cold around the corners of our little Cape, neither of us is eager to venture out with the dog. But, oh, the reward when we rich as the summer walks, if not more.

The bare trees leave us exposed to the neighbors, yes (something Matt typically detests), but down near the river, the world is raw and exposed to our eyes. This morning Matt saw a large tree gnawed to its core by a beaver only moments before. The waters swirl around ice formations that are dangerous, yes, but glorious, too. And while Matt has been the morning walker this week, I've had the privilege of the night--with nearly full and full moon guiding me along the ice-covered sidewalks of our still, silent village.

Last night I braved a night walk through a nearby cemetery. I typically adhere to a "don't do anything you wouldn't want your daughter to do" set of rules for where to walk and under what conditions, and on most nights this puts the darkened cemetery well out of my limits, but the moon was full last night and so light, the walk through the centuries-old stones was nearly as bright as day.
Having lived all my life in the northeast, I have seen tree branches after an ice storm before--the distinct, glassy coating that surrounds and separates every tiny branch (and can break off the largest of limbs if thick and heavy enough). I'm not certain I've ever seen the same under the light of a full moon, though. As I moved from the cemetery past the liquor store and pub (the local economy is thriving under the current economic conditions), I decided to extend my sojourn with the night sky with time in our backyard.

Walking circles around the heaven that is our yard, I was astounded at the trees. From just the right angle, every single ice-coated branch reflected the brightness of the moon in a dazzling shimmer of light that seemed a reflection of God Herself. I wondered at the metaphor of this display--do we show God's glory most when we are stripped bare, coated in an icy shield of doubt, questions, anger, authenticity? Is nature yet again teaching me that the cycle of budding new life, growth, and inevitable death and loss yields a glory not yet known or seen? Or was it simply a reminder that even the trees cry out in glory?

In the end, the lesson hardly mattered. I was simply glad for a dog named Ty, the privilege of the walk, and the gift of noticing what was and is and is to be....