Sunday, August 7, 2011

Final thoughts

The book is in.  The prints are made.  The marathon is run.  The retreat is over.  

I guess that means I have to go back to work. 

And, actually, that's okay with me.  If sabbatical lasted forever, it would not be as useful as it actually is.  And it'd be boring. 

I love my job.  Really really love my job.  I know that is a luxury, to love one's job, and so I feel very fortunate to love mine.  But I definitely needed a break.  Here's some of what I wrote about being on sabbatical when I was at Mercy Center:

When I was heading out of the office last May, I had this overwhelming feeling of entitlement, as if this sabbatical was something I had earned, something I deserved, it was my right.  I'm not sure what exactly changed my attitude (except maybe distance) but I have come to a place of profound gratitude and humility.  This time away was a gift to me from my parish, from Lilly and from God.  I did work hard to get to this place, but many people work hard and very few are rewarded with such an exceptional gift as three months to spend with family, traveling, relaxing, visiting, cultivating a long-lost hobby.  Entitlement got me nowhere (as is usually the case) but the switch to gratitude has released a lot of little stressed-out demons from their duties on my brain and shoulders.

I'm not going to lie and tell you all that I experienced some kind of major personal growth.  I, in fact, did little deep thinking.  But I did find that rest that I feared was so elusive in the beginning.  And I am coming back to this job that I love so much-- my vocation and life's calling-- with renewed energy and renewed excitement.  That is the point, I suppose.  I didn't deserve it any more than anyone else, but I did get the time that I needed to "accomplish" this rest.  And so I'll respond by continuing to do what I do best: loving the church community, teaching about Christ, preaching love and respect.  I am not smarter, deeper or more profound* for having left, but I am ready to return with an energy for the work that I haven't really felt in years.

I can't wait to see you all next Sunday!

*but, truth be told, I may actually be a little cuter since this rest has helped me lose the worried look and the perpetual bags under my eyes.  HA!

Day Whatever: Wrapping this thing up

Well, friends, after I got my book off to the printer's and headed headlong into pre-marathon mental hygiene, I gave the blog a much needed-rest (or maybe it was I who needed a rest. Whatever).  

Unless I come up with something profound that I need to share with you in the next few days, I am going to make this my final sabbatical blog entry [updated: okay, there's one more].  Whatever will you do without me?  Well, you can come to church, for starters.  Because I'll be there starting on Tuesday and because Jesus is far more interesting than me anyway.  And he didn't even get a sabbatical!

So, the last two weeks...

I took off for San Francisco last Saturday and stayed in Union Square at a great little hotel about a mile from the marathon start/finish line.  This little mile figures into our story a bit later.  Sunday morning, I woke up at an ungodly hour, dressed and marched on down.  It was beautiful that morning, a cool and perfect 57 degrees.  San Francisco is such a gorgeous city and this morning as 5,000 runners gathered for the 5k, 1/2 marathon and full marathon, it was just right.

This was my view waiting in the port-a-let line.  Seriously.  That's the Bay Bridge over to Oakland.

The start of the run was idyllic and serene, even with all 5,000 people.  I ran well and felt fantastic.  I snapped this around mile 5.  (For the record, I carry my iPhone when I run, not my DSLR!) 

That is our friend the Golden Gate Bridge.  A few minutes later, I ran over it and then made a loop and came back.  Very, very cool and just as iconic as it sounds.  On the way back across, however, the bridge sprouted tentacles and wrapped them around my ankles.  Or maybe I just tripped over my own foot.  Either way, I took a sprawling wipeout at mile 9.5, scraped chin and palms and knocked the wind out of me.  Mean old bridge.  I recovered in a couple of minutes but kind of lost my running mojo after that.

I kept on a decent (for me) pace for another 5 miles but kept getting slower and slower-- still running-- until mile 20 when it seemed that my whole being began to break down, right down to my soul.  I suppose this is what they call the dreaded "wall" and friends, it was terrible.  The scenery was so beautiful and I was miserable.  

But I kept on and finally finished--still running-- at a depressingly slow pace.  

But I finished!  So I can cross "MARATHON" off my bucket list.  I never have to do that again.  Whew.  And the shirt is really fabulous.

After grabbing one of those weird foil blankets,  I tried to wander back to my hotel.  My phone (with GPS) had died and there was nary a taxi to be found.  They were all taken by the faster, sprightlier marathoners.  I kept getting turned around and lost.  By the time I got a taxi, 40 minutes later, I was only 4 blocks from my hotel but still couldn't find it.  Inside my head was a dark place.  Yikes.  

I showered, ate (read inhaled) some pancakes, got a massage and then took to my bed, where I watched a pay-per-view movie and ordered Chinese food.  Then slept for 13 hours.  

The next morning, I took this picture while waiting for an omelet (you see a theme here? I was hungry!) to say "hi!" to my kids.  I hope my husband didn't actually show it to them because I look about as awful as I felt: swollen, bleary, stiff.  But a marathoner!

After I did a touristy limp through Chinatown, I headed to the Mercy Center in Burlingame, where I spent three days on retreat, doing yoga, writing, praying the offices, and walking the labyrinth.  It was renewing and restful.  Mercy Center is a really lovely place and I highly recommend it for simple retreats.  It is not luxurious but has everything one needs for time to think, rest and pray.  The beds are comfy and quiet, the food is simple and delicious and the grounds are very pretty.  It is in California, which is rather inconvenient for me, but it was just the right thing at the time.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Day Seventy Five: Book!

I just sent my (self-published) book off to be printed.  It is a labor of love and I can't wait to see it!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Day Seventy Two: Pressure

One week from tomorrow I will get on an airplane bound for San Francisco where I will run my first marathon.  26.2 miles.  I've gone as far as 23 miles and I am still not really convinced I can do this.

I have put a lot of pressure on myself with this one.  that kind of pressure is pretty much the opposite of what a sabbatical is about, I'm told.  apparently, I'm supposed to be resting and rejuvenating, getting myself prepared for the next seven (or so) years of parish ministry.  There is enough pressure from all directions in my vocation and family life, I shouldn't be adding my own artificially-induced expectations to the mix.

But that's just what I've done.  The closer I get to this event, the more I realize that, friends, I'm going to be REALLY upset and disappointed in myself if I don't make it. My goal: finish the damn thing before they clean up the course.  It seems like something I should be able to do. But I'm just not sure.  In fact, I'm pretty unsure.  And I'm scared.  I'm scared that I'm going to come back from this great gift of three months of restful, worry-free, happy time feeling strung out, knotted up and sad, all because I didn't make a goal that has become very important to me.

So why do we do this to ourselves?  I preach sermons about and really do believe that we are forgiven, loved and freed by a loving God that knows each of us to be worthy despite our own shortcomings.  I mean it.  I do.  But when it comes to my own shortcomings, or even my own POSSIBLE shortcomings (heck, this marathon hasn't even happened yet!), I can't let go of my own need to prove again and again that I am indeed worthy of something.  I'm proving it to myself, of course, but if God believes it and I know that, then why can't I believe it, too?

God has that divine ability to see those things in us that we are blind to, even--or maybe especially-- in ourselves.  And so we, in our very shortsighted human way, set up tests for ourselves: I will be a better parent if..., I will make more money if..., my spouse will love me more if...,  Running this marathon is just one more way I am trying to prove myself worthy to keep walking on this planet, trying to feel accomplished.  I'm not God and I'm just not capable of loving myself the way that God loves me.  So I fill the space with these little tests.  My hope for myself as I get older (and wiser?!?) is that I will feel the need to test myself less and believe in my untested goodness more.

In the mean time, I have a marathon to run!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Day Seventy One: Poor Little Preacher's Kid

I decided that since my kids were such good sports putting up with me all summer, I'd include them in the book.  Linden couldn't stand still long enough for me to get her hands, so I just took Eli's.

When I asked him my requisite interview question, "What is the most important thing you do with your hands?" he pressed them together up under his chin and said, very piously but seriously, "I fold them up to pray.  That's very important."  Then he walked away.  Kevin looked at me and said, "You can't print that, it sounds like a plant." About ten seconds later, he happily bounced back and practically shouted in my face "OH!  I LIKE TO RIDE MY BIKE TOO!!"

You can't make this stuff up.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Day Seventy: Holy Comforter

This evening I made my last church visit.  I visited My friend Mike Tanner at Holy Comforter here in Atlanta.  Holy Comforter is a unique congregation that has a large population of people with mental health diagnoses.  I have visited Holy Comforter several times over the last few year and have celebrated and preached there once.  I find it equal parts scary and holy.  Many of the people who worship at Holy comforter are unpredictable in their behavior, speech, even personal hygiene.  I never really know what to expect when I show up.  I find that frightening, disconcerting, disorienting at first.  It takes me a while to get settled in.  But then the Holy Spirit shows up, just like the Holy Spirit shows up everywhere.  We sing and pray together, we share the Meal together.  It is still frightening and unpredictable, but a little less so for the commonality that we all share, the Eucharist, the Bread, broken for all of us, those who are obviously broken themselves and those who put up a good show of pretending not to be.  And then, after that Bread is broken, we all remember (re-member) that we are beloved, broken bits and all.

Taking pictures and Holy Comforter was a hoot.  For starters, Mike invited anyone who wanted to to come have their hands photographed.  Nineteen people came forward.  Nineteen!  I got some good shots and some great quotes.  One man told me that the most important thing he does with his hands is "wash them."

Visiting HC was a fantastic way to wrap up this phase of the project.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Day Sixty Seven: Hands

Barbara is a Methodist pastor who joins in an Episcopal healing service from time to time.  She used to be a professional violinist.

Day Sixty Six: loving

DirtySexyMinistry is a blog I follow from time to time.  I love the way these women write but I also love what they write about, usually because it is exactly what is in my head at any given time.  Also because if it wasn't in my head, it gets there quickly after they've said it.  They are kindred spirits even though I've never met them (give it time, the Episcopal Church isn't very big!).

I came across this post recently on their site and really enjoyed it.  It has taken me on a few days' trip down memory lane of the past 4 1/2 years of parenthood.  What do we do for love?  Parents reading this have certainly had moments of full public humiliation to protect/entertain/discipline their kids.  There are the simple things I have done for my kids that 5 years ago would have sounded completely outside my realm of talent: nights sitting for hours in steam-filled bathrooms to calm croupy coughs, calling ANYONE I thought might be game in congratulating my 2 year old on potty success, saying things like: no sweetie, that's not Santa, it is supposed to be God" and "Get Jesus out of your mouth NOW."

Parents are not the only ones who experience this.  Spouses who make significant sacrifices, children who care for elderly parents, parents of four-legged friends who give over their hearts knowing that their hearts will be broken.

We are none of us Jesus.  But I do think we are at our best, and perhaps closest to Christ-like, when we have thrown caution to the wind in favor of loving someone else.  Life, Hollywood and the Bible will all tell you that love is not neat, easy or perfect, but if it wasn't difficult, it would hardly be worth working for. That is the message of the Gospel that rises to the top for me, like sweet cream, every time.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Day Sixty Five: texture

Day Sixty Four: Running update

A friend asked me today how the marathon training is going.  I updated her on my mileage and the fact that I'm beginning to taper down in anticipation of the big day in just over two weeks.  Then she said, "Yeah, I know that part, but how is it going?"

Well.  Um.

I have become so ensconced in the numbers, the mileage, the equipment, etc, that I haven't really checked in much with myself about how it is going.  And here is the truth:  it is fine.

You may note here a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

Truth is, it is what it is.  And what it is is running for hours at a time in the middle of a Georgia summer.  It is hot.  And it is, honestly, kind of boring.  I'm definitely experiencing a little bit of pre-marathon burnout.  I'm getting tired of running to count, following the program, preparing the night before.  I'm tired of thinking so hard about it.  I'm even getting tired of talking about it.  Yeesh!  How dull I must sound to everyone!

I'm still looking forward to running this marathon, to accomplishing it and to feeling good about having done so.  But mostly, I'm looking forward to having it behind me and to moving on to something else that moves me (heh!).

I love to run, but I don't think I like making a project out of running.  Running, for me, should actually be the opposite:  something I don't have to think about or worry about, plan for or fret over.  There are lots and lots of other things in my life that I can plan, fret, think or worry about.  Running should be my respite form those things.

I fear that training for a marathon is killing my love of running.  How sad!

Day Sixty Three: hands

The most important thing Jim does with his hands? "Prayer and praise!  Amen!"

Monday, July 11, 2011

Day Sixty Two: Lessons learned or otherwise

Two thirds of the way through, I'm not sure yet what I'll take away from this sabbatical time.  I'm willing to  let it NOT be a giant learning experience.  I am willing to let it just be good relaxing time spent with my family, running, photographing, resting.

My lesson might just be that not everything needs a grand lesson.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Day Sixty: Panic

This afternoon, my brother-in-law innocently asked me about a family gathering on a date in September.  I pulled out my trusty iPhone and checked the date on my iCal.  In doing so, I scrolled through two work days already booked with classes I'll be teaching in the fall and meetings I have to attend.

It was terrifying.

Apparently, I have-- without even noticing it-- entered into Full Sabbatical Mode (FSM).  All the time I spent worrying about whether or not I would ever relax enough to enjoy my sabbatical were all for naught. I achieved FSM and had done a darn good job forgetting about my heavy work load, my responsibilities, the curricula I have not yet planned, the events I have not yet advertised, the sermons I have not yet  written...

Then I checked that calendar. It is amazing how quickly that anxiety can come rushing back.  I have one month of FSM left and I don't want to spend it freaking out about what is to come when I return.  But now there are calendar dates ringing in my eyeballs and "did I remember to..."'s running sprints through my vacation-softened brain.  I have no idea what to expect when I get back but I really don't want to worry about it yet.  But it is so hard not to!

Jesus' admonishment about the lilies of the field is still one of the hardest for me to deal with.  It is easy for me to write it off with a bunch of "yeah buts":
Yeah but Jesus didn't have two small children.
Yeah but Jesus didn't have a mortgage, student loans, a car payment.
Yeah but Jesus didn't have a boss or a spouse.
Yeah but Jesus didn't have aging parents.
Yeah but Jesus didn't have to worry about global warming...
etc etc...

This is, of course, the point.      

The classes I need to teach in two months will be fine.  As far as I know, my kids have gotten three squares every day of their young lives (usually more, the little piglets).  There is no reason to believe that just because my sabbatical is ending, suddenly everything that has always been true about my life-- that it usually works out by the grace of God-- will no longer be true.

Worry gets me nowhere but worried.  So far, FSM has helped me to push the bread of anxiety to the back of my shelf where it is growing moldy and gross.  My hope upon returning to work is that I will not bake myself a fresh loaf.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Day Fifty Nine: one foot in front of the other

I ran twenty three miles this morning.  This is my last long run before the marathon on July 31.  That still makes me a little nervous.  I've never actually run 26.2 miles and I'm going to do it for the first time in a race in a strange city.  Yikes.

On the other hand, I gained three miles since my last long run, 20 miles two weeks ago.  So perhaps in three weeks, I can gain three more.  Right (she says, not very convincingly)?

This morning's run was beautiful.  We've had great beach weather, sunny and warm, for the last two weeks with nary a cloud in sight.  But beach weather isn't necessarily great running weather.  This morning was perfect running weather: overcast and cool, with a good breeze every so often, but not a gale that knocked me over.  I wound around and around, running over long bridges and along golf cart paths.  By the last three miles, I was just putting one foot in front of the other, not caring where I ran, but not wanting to get too far away from my destination as I tried to work in those last few steps.

That has been a tough part of training for me, getting the miles in.  Running has always been a way to get outdoors, to see the city, to balance my undisciplined eating habits.  To run with any sort of plan, especially a plan where I have to get a certain (very large) number of miles in, sometimes in strange cities, is hard for me.  I'm not a good guesstimator and I hate figuring it out online, so this morning's 4 mile loop that I was hoping to do a couple of times to log 8 miles was actually only 2.5 miles.  Bummer.

But I got the miles in and this afternoon, I am as sore and tired as I have ever been running.  No fun.  But satisfying!

Day Fifty Eight: Still here, kind of

When I decided to write on this blog every day, along with running out of things to say I also I did not anticipate the difficulty I would have in finding decent and reliable internet during my travels.  The beach condo where we are staying has spotty internet and phone service, a fact that hasn't bothered me one bit in the eleven years I've been coming down here, but one that I find annoying when I'm trying to be disciplined.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Day Fifty Six: hands

Allison cuts hair and makes people feel good about themselves.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Day Fifty Five: My traveling companions

All The Cousins together.  Ages 4, 3, 2, and 1.  Aren't they lovely?

Day Fifty Four: Oh vacation!

We are on vacation with my husband's brother and his family.  We have four kids under five, four adults and one very small dog packed into a large condo on the beach.  It is a fun, joyful occasion that we have been repeating for a few years now.  

But holy cow, I am tired!

A week at the beach with these energetic young kids is exhausting.  Everyone is always going in four different directions.  The two littlest require full-time hands-on attention, especially around water, of which there is plenty here.  And then when the kids are sleeping or otherwise occupied in some reasonably non-harmful way, we adults are hastily planning the next move-- playground?  beach?  pool?  bike rides?-- quick!  Before someone wakes up!

There has hardly been a day since we arrived that everyone in the house isn't passed out before ten.  We're all exhausted.  Not that I'm complaining, mind you.  I have a wonderful extended family and these are four fantastic kids that are shot through with verve, sass, excitement and (surprisingly) really good manners and decent respect for one another.  The Cousins are a fabulous foursome and watching them grow up together is one of the great pleasures of my life.

I occasionally miss the old kind of vacation, the kind where you take a pile of paperbacks and some garbage magazines and sit on the beach for hours, coming in for a tomato sandwich, noon beer and nap on the couch.  I used to stay up late to watch movies and get up long after the sun had begun to really bake the beach.  Like so many other things in life with kids, I remember fondly the days when my time was exclusively mine, when naps and late nights were by choice, not necessity.  The transition was hardest in the first year.  I got very frustrated when my vacations felt "hijacked" by the little squalling, demanding bundle that was my first child.

It is different now.  I'm tired, sure (I'm the only one still awake by a full hour!), but now that I have fully wrapped my mind around what the "new normal" is per vacation time, I'm getting more comfortable with the fact that I can rest when I'm dead and that these stinky, sandy, loud little rugrats are worth every ounce of time and attention we give them.  I still get frustrated, tired, and aggravated and I still long for my book on the beach, but more often I enjoy getting sand in my bathing suit from all of the rolling about and castle building I do.  I love introducing the kids to snow cones and fireworks and boiled peanuts.  I'm working on reminding myself again and again that this time is really short and really, really valuable.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Day Fifty Three: hands

Rob is a potter who has recently found inspiration for his art through prayer and meditation.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Day Fifty One: Trinity St. Augustine

My other's first cousin, Lyn, lives in St. Augustine, Florida.  The family and I had the pleasure of visiting Lyn and her husband, Wayne, in their beautiful house.  The house is amazing, built by a boat builder with so many nooks and crannies, creative storage, incredible views of the Matanza Bay and the Castillo de San Marcos.  The house is a perfect mix of old and new and is the kind of place I could explore for days, just to get all of the details committed to memory.

I visited Trinity St. Augustine, the oldest Episcopal church in Florida, established in the 1820's.  I attended the Wednesday healing service with Lyn.  It was a lovely service and very well attended for a midweek service.  They have an intense period of healing ministry in the middle of the service that involves not only the priest but also several healing ministers from the congregation.  It is an impressive ministry.

Trinity is a beautiful parish, though I have no pictures to prove it because it is the site of my camera's final demise.  Luckily, I was able to get some project shots in before it went for good.  I am looking forward to getting home so that I can get it fixed!  

Day Fifty: Scary Carrots

Our four year old son is a bit pirate obsessed in the way that only a four year old little boy can be.  He has no real sense of what a pirate did (or does, I guess), just loves the trappings of it: eye patch, hooks, boats, canons, swords.  It is fun to see piracy through his eyes, very romantic, almost heroic, without guile, thievery and killing.  I know the reality, I do, but like so many other things with children, it is a delight to see how the world looks to him, fresh and exciting, before it is tainted by the bother of reality.

Our kids went to the pirate museum in St. Augustine and had a fantastic time.  Said four year old still can't read, so instead, he got the visual feast of pirate images (carefully steered around the Chamber of Pirate Tortures) without any dose of reality at all.

Later in the day, he was describing the adventure to his younger cousin: "And then there was a scary carrot.  He was way up high and green and talked.  he was a really REALLY scary carrot.  No... wait... not a carrot... a... PARROT!! Yeah!  A parrot!"

Look out for scary carrots.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Day Forty Nine: The Cathedral

My camera broke on this visit, which caused me heart palpitations.  It still isn't working quite right and I'm looking forward to getting it to the camera shop so that I can let my heart go back to its normal frantic beating.

This is the only ambient shot I got at the Jacksonville cathedral before she went haywire on me.  

Day Forty Eight: hands

Everyone has their own way of receiving the Eucharist.  I think this one, take at St. Peter's Cathedral in Jacksonville, made a great shot. I look forward to sharing this man's story.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Day Forty Something: addendum

And I just discovered that my counting is waaaay off.  Today is actually Day Forty Seven.  This makes me anxious because I am now past the halfway mark.  And I didn't even realize it!

Day Forty Three: The Cathedral

I had the pleasure of visiting the fine folks at St. John's Episcopal Cathedral in Jacksonville this morning.  The service was beautiful as was the building.  It was packed to the hilt.  I almost didn't get a seat!

The people were very hospitable and really helpful.  I had a chance to visit with the lovely Kate Moorehead, their dean, whom I had met previously at a conference on parish communications in the 21st century.  Awesome Kate scored me nine pairs of hands to photograph, all with great stories attached to them.  Thanks Kate!

Unfortunately, I had a moment of total, unadulterated panic when my camera stopped working for no discernable reason.  I don't have any pictures of the cathedral because of this.  A lovely member of the congregation managed to get it limping along again, but it still isn't right.  As soon as I track down my card reader (stashed in a suitcase somewhere, natch') I will offer some of the photos of this morning's willing participants.

What a great morning!

Day Forty Two: shady theology

Driving along the highway in Florida yesterday, I saw a sign in front of a large church that read:

"America has blessed God!  God has blessed America!  The tides are turning!"

My political leanings are no secret, nor are my theological understandings.  I'm pretty comfortable talking about both and pretty confident in the grounding for my opinions on both.  (Note: I could be dangerous at dinner parties.)

Even despite my clear political and religious foundations, I try really hard to remain open minded.  I really do believe that God created all sorts and conditions, that it takes all kinds of people to make the world spin properly.  I am respectful of different understandings of God and I am am completely comfortable with the fact that not everyone thinks the way that I think.  I do believe this is a good thing.


The notion that America, or any country, corporation, denomination or individual for that matter, can bless God sets my teeth on edge.  To bless something or someone is to pronounce it holy, to sanctify it.  So not only is this a complete nightmare of semantics (that the one who makes all things holy would need to be made holy??), it is also presumptuous to the point of being offensive.  And yes, I am offended by it.

We are blessed by God (I'm taking a believer's point of view, here.  Sorry, atheists.).  The simple fact of our continued existence points to this.  But to presume that there is anything that we, as small and insignificant as we are in light of the sheer incalculable magnitude that is the Divine, can do to bless God is laughable.  We can thank God, we can humble ourselves before God, we can ask for forgiveness, we can praise God.  But we can't bless God.  And don't get me started on using God to further political messages.  Ach.

Clearly this has gotten under my skin.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Day Forty One: Numbers

It is really easy to get seduced by a number on the scale. Seduced into thinking first that this number means anything significant and second that this number is is some sort of measure of worth.

I am tall and have a good metabolism. I like to be active. Genetics have treated me fairly well. My body can, has and will do amazing things. The greatest of these things, hands down, has been bringing two perfect kids into the world. I do not underestimate the priviledge that that experience is. I am humbled by the opportunity and amazed at my own ability.


But it changed, this body of mine. And on my bad days (I have bad days just like everybody else) I wonder despairingly if I will ever be happy with my shape and size again. I know I am not the only woman who plays these sort of mind games. It seems to be and unfortunate blight on the female brain to be perpetually unhappy with the state of our physiques. And that blight is nurtured, magnified and fed by the images we see all around us, reminding us over and over again that our numbers, no matter what they are, are wrong.

I have a beautiful little daughter who is every inch of perfect. And I know that it won't be very long before she starts dissecting herself into numbers, too, and using them to measure her self worth. I am working hard to make sure she doesn't see that sort of mindset modeled at home, and that every opportunity I get, I am working to counter the message that measures her as anything other than perfectly formed in the image of God.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Day Forty: hands

I met the Rev'd Petero Sabune at 815 2nd Avenue in New York.  He is the Africa Partnership Officer for The Episcopal Church. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Day Thirty Eight: Unfamiliar ground

I used to be fearless

There's a lot in that statement that isn't really quite true, but that is how I remember it.

"Fearless" in a twenty two year old looks a lot like "stupidity" in those of us sailing rapidly toward our wiser years.

Despite the misery of my year in New York, I did a lot of exploring. I have great photographs from that time because I went places in the city that were slightly unsavory. Hey, I lived and worked in places that were slightly unsavory! And my old lovely analog Nikon F went with me most everywhere, even as heavy and unwieldy as it was. I fancied myself tough for riding the subway at odd hours. I took boxing lessons for cheap at a sketchy gym and taught writing to grade schoolers in a notoriously dangerous housing project. Was fearless. Or stupid. Either way, I lived to tell the tale.

This morning, I ran across the Williamsburg bridge then ran back. I went looking for another good running spot but everywhere I went, everything looked dangerous, dark, drippy, barbed-wired. So I wove around pedestrian-clogged streets and gave up after 45 minutes.

The concierge at my hotel told me when I got back that I was just three blocks from a fantastic running trail along the East River. He gave me a funny look when I told him the route had looked a little rough. "it isn't rough. It is really popular with folks on bikes and runners."

Apparently I'm not tough anymore. This realization has made me feel kind of like one of the folks my husband and I secretly snicker at as they drive through our own urban neighborhood on their way to the zoo, locking their doors against the fear of tangling with the wrong sort of folks.

I'm those folks in someone else's neighborhood. It is a classic response to the unknown, a (long awaited) touch of self-preservation but I'm still bothered when I see it in myself.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Day Thirty Seven: If I can make it there...

I lived in New York once. I was twenty two, fresh out of college and looking for a year-long adventure with friends before we all packed up and headed into "real life". It was a miserable year. I worked two jobs to stay afloat, rode the subway home from Brooklyn at 2 am from waiting tables in Soho, drank too much, ate too little, didn't have health insurance. I didn't make enough money to have any fun or adventure.

It was the sort of year I hope my kids experience that I do not want to know about.

But I did it. I survived a year in New York and it gave me enough confidence to know that I can survive just about anything. It was an invaluable learning year. And I couldn't wait to get the hell out of dodge. Ugh. The grime, the snow, the traffic, the attitude. Gray and rude. That is how I experienced New York City. It was a Spiritless year for me: while God was certainly at work, it was not daily evident and it remains to this day the lowest point in my spiritual life and development. I was in survival mode. Going to seminary there was totally out of the question.

I'm in New York now, twelve years later, staying in a sweet little boutique hotel in the lower east side, with fluffy towels and someone else's hot water bill. I walked sixty blocks up the east side just for fun this afternoon in the lovely sunshine, watching the neighborhoods change as the street numbers got higher. I shared a bottle of wine with an old friend and we ate good food and talked for four hours. Tomorrow morning I'm going for a run and eating a bagel and tomorrow night I'm going to see a show on Broadway.

This New York I could get used to: taxis and sun and food. Leisure time and a bit of money to spend. Not a lot of either, but just enough extra to have some fun.

I do not at all regret the year I spent here, though I do not look back on it with fondness. A good friend of mine likes to joke that "suffering builds character" and in this case, he is right. I am stronger, more self-assured, a little tougher and more worldly for a year doing battle with this city.

I do, however, deeply appreciate this time spent actually enjoying this city that has so much to offer. It is from a place of privilege that I am here now, no longer living hand-to-mouth, not in any kind of hurry. I get it now. I'm not nearly so worried or harried. The architecture is beautiful, the neighborhoods are fascinating, the food is phenomenal. I can see how this is a place full of opportunity and promise, funk and mystery.

All the same, I'm glad this is just a visit!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Day Thirty Six: Friend

Elizabeth has been one of my best friends for over half my life.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Day Thirty Four: photography fear

My friend Dustin is an amazing photographer.  Really amazing.  Check him out here.  We were in a group that went to Brazil together and the photographs that he came home with were really stunning.  One thing that Dustin seems to have no fear of is taking pictures of people.  His shots of life out in the real world is so beautiful, even when the subject isn't beautiful in any classic sense, mostly because of the way he captures people in vulnerable and natural ways.

I would love to take a page from that book.  I am terrified of taking pictures of people.  I'm not sure why.  Some of it is permission.  It doesn't seem like a thing that a "nice" girl would do to take pictures of a stranger without asking.  Some of it is not quite knowing what to take.  Some of it is not knowing what to keep after I've taken it.

In any case, I'm ending up with a lot of lovely pictures of my kids and some great still lifes.  Not sure how to overcome this fear, but in the mean time, I'll just enjoy Dustin's work!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Day Thirty Three: My other other other hobby

I am a woman of many hobbies.  You will note I did not say "many talents" because I don't really do any of them well or thoroughly, I just putter around and enjoy all of these little projects.  Jane of all trades and all that...


This is my pond.  It has been an extensive work in progress.  I dug it by hand in the spring of 2010 and finished it a few months later.  Then last winter a tree company dropped a big limb in and poked a hole in the liner.  So I dismantled and started over.  I would have preferred NOT to have to do that because it is really time consuming and exhausting work but in the end the pond is even prettier than ever.

This was this morning's project, a new fountain!  I made it from Salvation Army finds.  The fish and I love it.  The orange cup doesn't to much for me, the color isn't quite right, but it was the right size and, at $.99, I can always trade it out later.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Day Thirty Two

Jim is a retired lawyer in Bristol who has become a "tinkerer".  He makes the church's candles using a mold he created himself, mixing old candle stumps and a special blend of paraffin and beeswax.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Day Thirty One: A strange feeling

This morning, I woke up when my daughter called me from her crib.  We ate some toast for breakfast and read some books.  I gave her a cup of juice and put her in the stroller and went for a run.  We ended up at the neighborhood farmers market, ran into friends, bought some peaches, played on the swings.  Then we went home and had lunch.

This is boring, Noelle, why are you telling us this?

Because it is Sunday.  I'm not supposed to be at the swingset on Sunday morning.

I have had the occasional Sunday off.  I have been on vacation and not gone to church.

But for some reason, this particular Sunday felt strange.  Maybe because I was in my "normal" habitat.  I didn't take the opportunity of a Sunday off to fly the coop, to get out of dodge.  It was strange to see my neighborhood on Sunday morning.  It pretty much looks the same as Friday mornings.  Except that it is Sunday.

Sundays are, by and large, the anchor of my week.  There is a myth among some factions in the Christian world that ministers only work on Sundays and spend the rest of the week sitting around praying or writing sermons or twiddling our thumbs.  This is, of course, not true.  We work pretty darn hard the rest of the week.  But Sundays can be particularly intense.

Removing that bubble of intensity from my week is, admittedly, kind of nice.  Relaxing.  Restful.  But it is also unnerving.  I can't shake that funny feeling that I'm supposed to be somewhere or that I'll get found out as a fraud (She's not supposed to be buying peaches!  She's a priest!).  There is also that unsettling feeling that...well... I'm missing church, which is something that I love, not just as my vocation, but as my faith practice, my grounding.  I've had the opportunity to worship in a few different places since beginning my sabbatical.  These new places are partially filling the hole, but it is a little hard to be a religious vagabond.  My faith is deeply rooted in community and, as a visitor, I am by definition not rooted in that community.

It is possible that I'll get used to relaxing Sunday mornings.  I doubt it.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Day Thirty: One Month Down

It is hard to believe my sabbatical is one-third over.  One one hand, I feel like I haven't even scratched the surface of rest and renewal, that I have no rhythm for this, that I have so much of my project left to do.  On the other hand, I've already been a few places, have a good library of photos and experiences to write about and I have all of my future travel plans made, details taken care of.

I'm in a good place.  I am resting. Though, as I've mentioned before, "resting" doesn't mean what it used to. Vacation used to be a time when I'd shed whatever was clogging my brain in favor of a pile of books and naps on the beach.

Kids changed that.  I remember my first vacation with our now four-year-old was so frustrating.  My brain hadn't yet made the switch:  I hadn't realized that just as he had changed our sleep patters, our eating patterns, my personal relationships, my work schedule, he would also be changing my vacations.

I've got my mind wrapped around that concept now and I don't get resentful or frustrated anymore (mostly).  Sabbatical (like vacations) has been more about slowing down the breakneck pace at which we are normally operate.  I'm sitting on the front porch, playing with the garden hose, eating pb&j, going for bike rides in the neighborhood.  It isn't profound, it is just different, different from how we usually operate and also different from how a sabbatical might look at another time in my life.  To some folks, a "normal" day around here might sound exhausting: Breakfast, run, trip to the children's museum, snack, plant herbs, lunch, nap time (my work time), off to the pool for swim lessons, meet kid friends for dinner out, baths, bedtime, work a little more...  But this is a really fun way to be together.  My kids and I are exploring all kinds of things together, and at a pace that is new to us: slow.  I haven't worn a watch in... hmmm... thirty days.  Usually, there's nowhere more important to be.  A bit of Carpe Diem, I suppose.

I ran into another local priest the other day when I was having lunch with my husband (another sabbatical treat!).  "So what, you're not spending a month in Asia learning Tibetan chant in a monastery?" he asked with a grin.  "No," I replied, "I'm travelling a little bit, but mostly, I'm learning what it feels like to just slow down for a little while."  So far, it feels good.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Day Twenty Nine: Sea Ranch Chapel

When in Sea Ranch, California, with my girlfriends, we visited this tiny little chapel that is shaped, as my friend Elizabeth puts it, "like Gandolf's hat".  It is so lovely inside, with amazing shapes and natural materials.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Day Twenty Seven: Nobody gonna break-a my stride

I started running in earnest after I had graduated from seminary and moved my newly-wed self with my husband to Nashville.  As is often the case with freshly-married (unemployed!) couples, we were on a really tight budget, so no gym, and we didn't really know anyone, so no pick-up sports or leads on the local softball league.

Life has its stressors and a new house, new city, and miserable failure of a job search were mine at the time.  With as many sports as I have played in my life, I had never really done any running, other than limping along with training runs for high school soccer.  Running, I figured, was not my "thing."

But being stressed out and on a budget will make people do strange things.  Like lace up and get going.  In that first 6 months in Nashville, I was stung by a bee (I'm allergic), lost (more than once), caught in a tornado warning (stupid, stupid, stupid), and chased by angry neighborhood dogs whose rotten owners do not believe in fences or leashes.  But I also achieved my goal: 3 miles of uninterrupted running.  Woot!

Since then, running has become my "thing".  There are lots of other "things" that I love to do in my spare time, but few other things have served me as consistently and faithfully as running.  I have taken breaks for injuries and pregnancies but I always manage to come back to it, sometimes in earnest, like now, and sometimes just for low-grade maintenance.

I'm not a great runner.  Hell, I'm not even a good runner.  I'm really (really really) slow.  But I am a runner.  I wake up early.  I take care of my shoes.  I drink a lot of water.  I log my miles and sometimes I even brag about them.  But I am happiest when I'm running regularly and will often make some moderate sacrifices to make sure that happens.  Once, in Runner's World magazine, I saw an advertisement for some product that bragged that their product was so cool it was for "real runners, not people who push jogging strollers."  I assure you, having pushed both my children (separately) on training runs up and down the hills of Atlanta, that ad creator has no idea what he is talking about.  I'm a runner, dammit, baby jogger or not.

I ran 18 miles this morning and I'm really proud of myself.  This is the farthest I've ever run and I ended strong, feeling really good.  

Theologian Roberta Bondi talks about "praying the crossword puzzle", her way of explaining how she prays while she does normal, everyday tasks.  Well, I pray while I'm running.  Not the whole time, not even every time, but when I'm running, I'm thinking about everything that is going on in my life and in the lives of the people I'm connected to.  And as I'm thinking, I'm praying, for healing, for redemption, in thanksgiving, in sadness.  Prayers when I run come as naturally as the rhythm of my footfalls.  When I finish my run, even if I am physically spent, I often feel spiritually refreshed, having offered the worries and stresses of my life up to the only One who really has any power to do anything about it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Day Twenty Six: St. Andrew's

The day I visited St. Andrew's, Norfolk, was the day of the parish picnic.  There was such a wonderful, happy spirit in the air, a spirit (or perhaps Spirit?) that their rector, my dear friend John Rohrs, says is pretty much a way of life for the century-old parish.  My family and I were warmly welcomed at the picnic, which was a marvelous spread of potluck goodness.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Day Twenty Five: Flying

We have been in Norfolk visiting good friends including our beautiful three year old goddaughter and her twin baby brothers. I had the opportunity to preach at St. Andrew's in the neighborhood of West Ghent.

Here's the sermon that I preached.

I recently took a digital photography class at a local college near where I live in Atlanta. It was a great class, I learned a lot, building quite a bit on my previous knowledge of analog photography, learning about how to stretch the limits of the medium using new technology.

On of the best parts of the class, like any class in the visual arts, were the homework assignments. We were instructed to go out and… you guessed it… take pictures. We had assignments to take close ups, to capture movement, to highlight repeating patterns, to play with light. Each week was a new challenge to help us get comfortable behind the lens. The assignments were pretty straightforward and mostly singly-focused, helping us to hone one skill at a time like metering or shutter speed.

And then we came to the final assignment: we had to use all of our newly-acquired skills to create a dream sequence. We had to play with all of those tricks we had learned, tricks of light and focus, of speed and perspective, to recreate something that lived only inside our heads, at night, when we were asleep.

I wrestled with the assignment conceptually for weeks before I started to shoot. The majority of my memorable dreams are anxiety nightmares about church, if you can believe that, and that sounded kind of boring.

Instead, I chose to shoot a dream about flying. In this dream, I wake up early for my morning run, but about a block away, my feet lift off the ground and I am running through the air getting higher and higher over my neighborhood as the sun rises. Every time I've had the dream, it feels very, very real. And every time, I am torn between conflicting feelings of exhilaration—wanting to fly forever—and sadness for everything on the ground behind me. The pull of the real world saves me every time: I always wake up before I'm forced into making a decision.

Because of the photography project, this dream has been on my mind a lot recently. And then-- wouldn't you know—I've been presented with the Ascension.

In our reading from Acts of the Apostles this morning, we are offered the story of the ascension of Jesus Christ. This is the very beginning of Acts and the author was probably the same person who wrote the Gospel of Luke. Acts is more or less meant to be read as an extension of that Gospel.

But instead of an accounting of the life and teachings of Jesus, Acts of the Apostles is exactly that: it is an accounting of the life and teachings of Jesus' apostles who were left on earth after his resurrection and ascension. So it is fitting that the book should open with Jesus' departure.

“You have no idea what is coming next: that's my job, not yours. But with the Holy spirit, you have everything you need to preach and teach, to love and to live fully.”

And then he's gone, leaving all the messiness and pain and heartbreak behind for the apostles to deal with. Wouldn't it be nice?

Though my family would probably tell you I can get a bit of a martyr complex, I am certainly no Christ. But who among us has never dreamed of rising above it all, either figuratively or literally? From the character Jenny in Forrest Gump praying, “Dear God make me a bird so I can fly far far away,” to the old gospel favorite, “Some bright mornin' when this life is over, I'll fly away,” there are times in our lives when even the strongest among us wish that we could just rise up and go.

Wouldn't it be nice to say a little prayer and be lifted up, away from what plagues us? Away from the economy and the wars and the earthquakes and floods? Away from loss and hurt? We could just leave it all behind and never again have to deal with the muck that are part and parcel of our lot as humans.

But here is the thing: we are equipped. We are equipped by learning and by faith and by sheer force of the will of God that inhabits each of us, to make it through these things, whatever they are. Jesus did not ascend to escape. Jesus ascended in order that we, the disciples here on earth, might spread out, take charge and work with our hands and with our hearts to bring the kingdom of God closer.

We are charged with begin witnesses to the ends of the earth. We are equipped with the tools to do it. Tools of scripture, community, belief, love.

That doesn't mean it will be easy. “Easy” has never been a promise to the faithful. Some days, just keeping ourselves upright against the onslaught of negativity, anger, apathy, doubt and fear is all we can manage. But that's okay. Those days will pass. There will be other days, days when we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the kingdom is near and our hands brought it so.

And here, I have to disagree with those men robed in white who chastised the apostles in our reading from Acts. I see no problem with looking up toward heaven, if that is from where you draw strength, if that is how you remind yourself of that which is of ultimate worth. I do however, think it is problematic to look toward heaven if you are seeking an escape route, a way to avoid the hard work at hand. Heaven is not a hideout. The ascension is not an eject button.

My dream sequence never really gives me the opportunity to choose whether to go back or to fly away. I wake up in my bed with the duties of motherhood, priesthood, citizenship and friendship all pressing in around me. Sometimes I wake up scared, sometimes relieved. But every time, I wake up here, now. Because that is where my work is. Here. Now. Having looked heavenward, I'm ready to start a new day, apprehensive but assured.

Stay the course, friends. You are perfectly equipped. Look to heaven when you need to be reminded of why we are here, but look to one another to see the face of Christ urging you onward, ushering in the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Day Twenty Four: Deer me

We woke up after a luxurious Sea Ranch afternoon nap to these guys hanging our outside the bay window.  Hello there, gentlemen.

Day Twenty-Two: Grace abundant

When I first arrived in San Francisco (after spending a third of my natural lifespan in line at the car rental agency), I had a couple of hours to kill so I headed straight to Grace Cathedral.  It is SO beautiful there.  I had been once before for a few minutes but never had a chance to spend time exploring all by myself.

I didn't know if I was going to have enough time to visit here, so I didn't make any hands appointments, but I did take time to walk the labyrinth.   It was a wonderful holy time of prayer, unexpected in its depth.  There was a moment during my meditative walk when I felt absolutely sure that I was supposed to be there, right then.  That feeling helped me give up a lot of my anxiety about traveling, about sabbatical, about plans made and lost.  It was serendipitous and divinely purposeful, all at the same time.