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Waiting for Cupid

2161693094_9bf2e3179c_z“Sign up for Match!” your friends said. “My friend Beth met someone on there and they’re getting married in June!” your friends said. So you did. You shelled out for the six month period, trusting you’d never need that free additional six months because you’d meet someone special right away.

When the six month subscription ran out, you were still optimistic. That’s why they give another six months free, right? A whole year on Match with hundreds, maybe even thousands of people to meet? Yes, you’d meet someone special for sure.

After the second six months is over, still with no one special, you find yourself on OkCupid. Your single-pastor’s budget doesn’t have room for another subscription service. Your friends have assured you the free one is just fine. “Sign up for OkCupid!” your friends say. “My friend Sarah met someone on there and they’re getting married in July!” your friends say.  So you copy and paste from your Match account into your OkCupid account and wait.

Surely the perfect person is out there, waiting for you. It’s just a matter of time until a message from The One is in your inbox. But what should you do while you wait?

1.  Play Candy Crush Saga. This is the solution during your optimistic stage. If you open one browser window to OKC and play Candy Crush for a bit in another browser window, someone will message you. Five lives. You have five wholes lives. If you take the level slowly, you might even have two messages when you click back over to OKC!

2.  Clean. The optimism is waning, but you’re still certain that if you keep the OKC website open on your computer, someone will message you. Open up OKC. Open up Pandora. Clean! Come back to your computer. Yes! Three messages!

“hey sexy”

“wanna hook up”

“what u up 2”

You’re going to have to wait a while longer.

3.  Be SuperPastor. You’ve been sucked deeper into the OKC vortex, but you’re still hopeful that a message is coming. A real message. A message with correct spelling and grammar. You’re not going to think about it. You’re going to be SuperPastor instead. You call the grouchy lady and pray with her; through the power of the Holy Spirit, she’s happy for a solid ten minutes. You wrangle the youth group. You write a sermon that will make them laugh, make them cry…really, it’s better than Cats. The church calendar for the next three years is all sketched out. Take that, OkCupid message silence! You cannot defeat SuperPastor!

4.  Start the Master Cleanse. You know you need to take better care of yourself. You’ve been saying that for a while. Instead of waiting for someone else to message you, you’re going to take charge so that when that person finally messages you, you will be a strong, independent woman in awesome shape. Google “master cleanse.” Realize this involves several days of drinking only water laced with maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and lemon juice. Decide to take a trip to Whole Foods* instead. Crack almonds it is. And some other healthy stuff while you’re there.

*Realize you’re a pastor in a small, rural town, perhaps thousands of miles away from Whole Foods. Collapse in despair.

5.  Decide to take things into your own hands. You will ferret out and message The One all on your own. Put on Orange is the New Black in the background. Plug in your laptop. You’ve got this. Start scrolling through your matches. Cute. Cute. No way. Kids? Hmmm. Click. What does that even mean. Google it. Click on another profile as quickly as possible. See another single pastor, one you know in real life, in your matches. Internally freak out. Can you click on their profile? Of course you want to know what they wrote. But what if OkCupid sends them a “She’s an exceptionally good match” email? Or “She’s checking you out right now!” Ignore the urge to click. Consider signing up for A-list so you can browse anonymously. Curse your budget limitations. Keep clicking.

6.  Reconsider your expectations. How long ago did you sign up for OkCupid? Take a long walk while pondering your list of requirements. Is the correct use of you’re/your really that important? Is a college degree necessary? You could totally get involved with a Tea Partier since opposites attract, right? Is it really about the gender or just the person? That person in Mozambique actually seemed nice; long-distance isn’t that big a problem, is it?

7.  Find single girlfriends. Yes, all your BFFs are happily partnered, but that’s why Meetup exists. Single girlfriends mean alcohol and group bemoaning of singleness. Their OkCupid horror stories will surely soothe your pain. The internet is once again your friend as you use it to locate other single ladies.

8.  Ponder scripture. Paul wrote about the gift of celibacy for a reason, right? Did God give you that gift and you’ve just missed it until now? Surely there’s a reason Roman Catholic clergy are celibate… maybe a call to ministry and a call to celibacy go hand in hand. Tear up a little at that possibility.

9.  Give real life a shot. Hang out in coffee shops. Google singles bars then hastily click away in terror. Go the places you love because The One will surely be there, too. Every single romcom says that’s true. Go to Meetups. Go to professional networking events. Yes! Forget OkCupid. You will encounter the perfect partner by a pre-digital age method. Millennia of humanity can’t be wrong! Stay out late and see who you meet!

10.  Just live. The truth is, you have an awesome life. You are an intelligent, gifted, beautiful woman. God called you to ministry and gave you people with whom to live out that call. It’s amazing and wonderful and life-giving and a rollercoaster ride. Yes, you want a partner, but the truth is, you’re fabulous all by yourself. OKCupid’s message silence be damned.

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“Old Maid” Revisited

ccg116bI owe my changed perspective to Mabel, the woman who, during a shared car-ride on a Senior Adult outing, proudly proclaimed that she had been an old maid in her younger years. Even putting aside the incongruity of being an old maid in younger years, Mabel’s statement struck me as odd. I thought back to the illustrated card game my friends and I had played as children. I remembered the dour-faced, homely “old maid” playing card that no one had wanted. Why would anyone be proud to be an old maid?

Mabel explained:

“I’m married now, but I didn’t meet Bill until my late-thirties, and that was very old to be single back then. I was proud to be single though, and proud to be called an old maid. You have to realize, that was the 1950’s—women couldn’t get jobs the way men could. And even if you got a job, you made only half the wages men made for the same work. But I found a job, and took care of my money, and I was able to live all by myself with no one else’s help. What’s not to be proud of there? They could call me an old maid but what it meant to me was that I could succeed without the help of a husband. That’s an accomplishment.”

I had never thought about singlehood from the perspective that Mabel articulated. The sour, wrinkled woman on the playing cards had early on built up, in my mind, our culture’s view of old maids and singlehood. In that view, to be single in her thirties meant that a woman was probably broken, defective, or unwanted. Even at its very best, singlehood was understood as a life stage to be passed through as quickly as possible. As I grew older, the card game’s understanding of older single women had been deepened through the years as I watched single women around me. I saw that they were frequently quizzed about their personal lives. “Any prospects on the horizon?” an acquaintance would ask, clearly anxious. “I’m sure you’ll be snatched up before you know it,” they’d say, as if the single woman were a product—a lonely, leftover product—on a shelf.

Apart from the culture, I put my own negative spin on singlehood as well. Divorced and living on my own for the first time as an adult, I had a tendency to interpret my single status as a failure; I had failed to cultivate a successful relationship. With every passing year, I grew more critical of myself, blaming singlehood for so many things. The bills were difficult to pay on my minimal salary. My son spent more time in the care of other people because, as a single parent, I had no backup to watch him should work require my attention. I struggled to maintain emotional health as I grappled with the demands of ministry without a partner who could be a sounding board and to whom I could unburden myself after a long day. I blamed singlehood for the hardship of these challenges, and I blamed myself for failing to find and secure a partner.

But Mabel gave me the gift of a new perspective. In Mabel’s statement about the pride she felt to be able to do life on her own, I heard an alternative voice for myself. Yes, some things are more difficult because I am a single, female pastor. But those difficulties are not a sign of my failure; instead, they are a sign of my strength. Furthermore, I began to understand that I had taken for granted the blessing that is my ability to stay single. I am fortunate that I can live a comfortable life without the pressure of having to find a husband for financial reasons; I can make ends meet on my own and there is a great deal of freedom in that knowledge.

Today, I would still bristle if someone called me (or anyone else) an old maid. But Mabel helped me to understand that the status implied by that label is not a sad or regrettable status. Instead, living as a single woman is proof that I possess the maturity and confidence to support myself and run my own life. The additional challenges I face as a single woman may cause me some hardship, but I am a more resilient person because I have prevailed against them. “Old Maid” is not a term I prefer, but if it’s referring to my status as an autonomous woman and someone capable of meeting the challenges of singlehood with success, then I am indeed proud of what it signifies. I am proud to be one of a group of independent, intelligent clergy women who meet the demands of life and ministry solo and who continue to redefine singlehood and challenge cultural stereotypes every day.

I have long since lost or thrown away that set of “Old Maid” playing cards. But I suspect that if I still had them today, the old maid would look different to me now than she did back then. No longer would I see her as a tired, sour-faced woman. Now I think I would understand her to be a wise and determined sister. And I’d be proud of her, for standing firm against the cultural pressure to marry someone (anyone) and for showing the world the beauty of an independent spirit. Bless her, and bless all of you, my fellow single revs, for your remarkable lives and inspiring examples.

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My Birthday Wish

640px-Blue_candles_on_birthday_cakeIt’s my birthday. I will celebrate with friends today, and tomorrow as well. But to be honest, I’ve had mixed feelings about birthdays the last few years. I know it has something to do with not being where I am “supposed to be” at this point in my life, as I was reminded by a list a friend posted to Facebook the other day about differences between your 20s and 30s. At least half the things on the list assumed that everyone in their 30s has a spouse and children. And I always thought I would. But now I’m nearing the end of my 30s, and the likelihood that I will be a wife and mother before I’m forty, if ever, seems smaller all the time.

As a child, I never imagined myself any older than twenty-three. The only reason I even thought that far ahead was because that’s how old I would be in the year 2000. That was the future, some faintly magical point in time that felt so far away I may never really get there. By the year 2000, my grade-school self was sure that I would have gotten tall and thin, graduated from Harvard, and married Michael J. Fox. But I decided I wanted to focus on my career as an actress/scientist/rock star for a while before any babies came along. I had spent enough time around babies to know that they take a lot of work. I thought I would hold off on having kids until I was twenty-five, which seemed revolutionary to someone growing up in a small town where women married and started families usually long before that.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the wedding of one of my “surrogate children,” a girl I started babysitting when she was a preschooler and I was a recent high school graduate. Back then, when I took her and her brother to their little league games, school events, or on outings to the local Walmart, adults would tell me how good I was with them, what great practice this was for raising my own children someday. I believed them, and made mental notes of everything I learned from this trial run of parenting. Nearly two decades later, I’ve probably forgotten most of it. At the wedding of this child-who-is-now-unbelievably-a-grown-woman, some of the other guests were people I had not seen since those babysitting years, since I was in my 20s or even younger. They caught me up on their lives – marriages, births of children and even grandchildren – and asked what was new with me. I told them things are pretty much the same.

That felt true in the moment, but it isn’t, of course. I don’t have any marriage or baby news to report, but a hell of a lot has changed in my life since I was twenty-five, now that I think about it.  I spent four years in seminary and earned a Master’s degree. I traveled to the Middle East, where I swam in the Red Sea, floated in the Dead Sea, went inside one of the Great Pyramids of Giza, rode a camel, and walked in the footsteps of some of the heroes and heroines of my faith, even prayed where Jesus prayed. I completed five grueling units of Clinical Pastoral Education, training as a hospital chaplain. I won a coveted position as a staff chaplain at a large and busy level 1 trauma center in one of the most beautiful cities in America. And for over five years I worked the overnight shift, when some of the worst and most tragic events in a hospital take place. I preached my first sermon, my first funeral, and my first wedding, all of which I’ve done a few more times since then and hope to keep doing, because I discovered that I love doing them and I’m pretty good at them. I made wonderful friends, adopted my first dog, bought my first car and my first house, wrote my first book, rode my first zip line and did my first free fall, went on some fun dates and some awful ones, made stupid mistakes and wise decisions, and learned, and learned, and learned.

Part of what I learned and am still learning is to let go. I have to finally let go of some of the dreams I had as a little girl. I’m never going to graduate from Harvard or marry Michael J. Fox. Those are pretty easy to let go (although MJF and I would have made an adorable couple – I’m the perfect height for him). I’m also never going to be a mother at twenty-five, or thirty, or thirty-five. I can’t be a bride at any of those ages either. These dreams are much harder to let go. As I enter a new year of life, I’m trying to give myself space to grieve those things, even as I celebrate the new possibilities that each year brings. I’m doing my best not to so narrowly define those possibilities as well. I think thirty-seven is going to be the first birthday I haven’t told myself, “This is the year I finally get skinny!” or “This is the year I finally find love!” Not to be bitter about it, but the body type I have always wanted is not within the realm of possibility for me; it’s best I make my peace with the body I have, use it to its fullest potential, and stop hiding anytime someone pulls out a camera because I’m afraid I’ll look fat in the pictures. And love? I had my heart broken badly enough at thirty-six that I’m not in any rush to go out and find love again anytime soon. I’ll let it find me. Or not.

All of this might sound pessimistic, but I’m actually hopeful. It’s not easy to be hopeful when you’re walking through depression, but I am. Not hopeful that I’ll get all the things I want or that this will be the year things finally go my way; that would just be naive. What I’m really hoping for is that this year I can shed some of what has been weighing me down for years. Losing physical pounds would be nice (and I’m still going to try), though mainly what I need to take off is the burden of comparing myself to other people. That is a crushing weight. I don’t know what thirty-seven will look like for me, but I’m damn sure it won’t look like thirty-seven for my mother or the woman who sits next to me at church or my high school best friend or the hundreds of people posting perfect family photos to my Facebook newsfeed. When I blow out the candles, I won’t be wishing for a life like theirs anymore. I’ll be wishing simply to live the life of Stacy Sergent a little better, a little lighter and braver and wiser and happier than I was at thirty-six. That would be enough.

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Home Envy

599px-James_Jasper,_motor_brakeman,_and_his_family_eat_dinner_in_their_kitchen_in_home_in_company_housing_project._Koppers..._-_NARA_-_540913        It’s time to write my sermon, so of course I’m procrastinating online, scrolling past the posts and pictures of other people’s lives.  A wide spectrum of life is here: weddings, family vacations, and cute little babies.  I like this connection to my friends, and I smile at the photos.  I scroll on, but then I see it:  a picture of a newly purchased house.  The green-eyed monster rears its ugly head now.  A house.  Weddings and babies barely register, but when someone posts pictures of a house, I come undone.

Even knowing the burden of a mortgage, of constant upkeep, doesn’t quell my initial surge of jealousy.  Even knowing that an internet profile is a carefully curated perfection of a much more complex life doesn’t help.  Pictures of playrooms, updated decks, and recently rearranged furniture end with me breaking the tenth commandment. This irrational jealousy would be explainable if my living situation were sub-par, if I were crammed into a miniscule apartment or trying to survive in some dilapidated dwelling, but my intense envy doesn’t make sense because I do have a house.

Well, it’s not really mine.  I live in a manse.

I’m a proponent of the manse system, noting how it benefits smaller churches that otherwise couldn’t offer a housing allowance, how it benefits young clergy saddled with debt and poor credit who otherwise couldn’t buy a house, how it helps churches in less-attractive areas call pastors because there’s no need to buy a house there.  I remain a proponent, when practical, of manses.

I am grateful for the manse I live in, since I serve a small church in a dying town where houses go up for sale almost every day and then stay that way for years.  I am young, and in debt, unwilling to buy property which I could never sell, and committed to serving the small church.  The manse benefits me.

But this manse, in particular, is a relic of a different time, of a time when my church and this town were bustling with life, when employment was available, and, most important, when the minister was married with children.  None of this is the case now, especially that last item.  I am single, childless, and living in a manse created for family.  My house has ten rooms, some of which are basically barren.  It’s not that I’m much of a minimalist, it’s that this house is far bigger than the life I have.

To be clear, I am aware what a blessing it is to have space. I know what other people would give for this luxury.  I take full advantage of having work space and living space and sleeping space.  But to be honest, it’s also overwhelming.  There are so many empty places, so many half-finished spaces, and just one little me.  This house doesn’t fit me.  This house is made for a person with a different life, for a person with things I don’t have.

Sometimes it doesn’t feel like the house is half-filled and unfurnished, it feels like my life is half-filled and unfurnished.  Sometimes it feels like all this space is taunting me for the things I’ve failed to do, all the things I seem to lack.  You still haven’t filled these rooms! You don’t have anyone to share this space!  You don’t have any reason for a back yard and a huge kitchen!  Look at the big, empty areas of your life!  This mild paranoia makes me grateful that walls can’t actually talk.

But fear of what the walls would say also shows that the root of my house envy is something deeper than longing for wraparound porches and the Craftsman style.  What I want is what I see in those Facebook pictures—but what I see is a home.  Not the place, not the furnishings, but the people who will fill those places and live in those rooms.  My friends, posting their new digs, look like they feel at home, like they are home.  Offline, I can’t even remember what the houses look like, because the house isn’t really what matters; it’s that sense of home, of comfortable settledness, of shared life that I remember.  And no matter what I put in it, this house doesn’t feel like a home to me.  It feels too big, and too empty, and I feel lonely and unsettled in it.

In one of my bible study sessions, we looked at the passage where Jesus sends out the disciples. Folks in the group latched on to various parts of the text, but I was taken by these words: “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house.”

For me, the consolation of these extracted verses is that the disciples stayed in houses which were not their own while they did the work of the kingdom.  And I bet those houses didn’t always feel right.  I bet at times they longed for their own beds and familiar faces.  I bet that even when the peace of God fell on them, that not every house felt like home.

And though there’s little I share with those brave disciples, all the same, I am in a house that isn’t mine, and doesn’t feel like home.  I remind myself that not only did the disciples live this way, but the Lord who sent them did, too.  There’s an unsettledness to the Gospel story that comforts me as I wrestle with longing for the feeling of home.  If I feel unsettled, at least I am in good company.

In a more inspirational piece, this is where I would explain how I’ve overcome my feelings of jealousy and longing with that knowledge.  But I haven’t yet. I know I can make a good life, just as I am, where I am, but I am still in the middle, hoping for a reason for all this space.

I also know, even when I sense empty places in my life, that I carry gifts that a house, even a big, empty house, can never contain.  I’m overwhelmed with space, but also overwhelmed with grace and love.  I bear truths that walls can’t hold and am sheltered not just by a roof, but by Almighty wings.  And more important, I know my Lord didn’t call me to live a tailor-made life; he’s called me to proclaim the peace of God and the nearness of the kingdom. And, perhaps, he has called me to live “settled” in a way that looks different from many others.  As I work through envy and covetousness, I pray that peace will not only fall on the homes and people I encounter, but that peace would also fall on my own heart and my own house, and make it a home.

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Consecrated?

5077278307_a8ea39b266_zYou aren’t single. We’re

together, for the long haul.

Right?

His head tilts, brow furrows.

 

Yes, but

I start

Yes but according to the

Church…

 

Would another person be a better partner

He wonders

Just because of some rings and words at the front of a church?

 

Ah, but my whole life is words at the front of a church…

But it isn’t.

And I sure didn’t ask for this

this blessed unrest

this life of presence

with families who are not my own

And I can’t let it go

it feels like me

like how I was created to be

consecrated by God

from before I could know

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Grace for the Moment

4385234366_570d227770_z“We’re praying for you.”

I was robed and walking towards the narthex when one of my church members stopped to whisper these words. I offered a broken “thank you.” I felt the tears grow and burn in my eyes. Halfway down the hallway, I turned around and ran back to my office. By the time I got there, I was sobbing. The clock read 10:24 AM, six minutes before worship began. I was grateful that I gave up make-up, especially mascara, years ago.

I need to get it together, I thought. What if we have first-time visitors? I should go meet them. Are there any announcements I need to make? Why do we buy such cheap, generic tissues in churches?

I took a deep breath and looked in the mirror. If I could just get the tears out of my eyes, surely no one would see the dark circles underneath. I fluffed my hair–not because it dried my eyes but because it made me feel a little better.

I put my hand on the doorknob, only to feel the tears rise again. Darn. I took another deep breath, eyes closed. I could hear those words again…

“We’re praying for you.”

I leaned into the dark doorway –and into those prayers. If there were visitors, the church members would greet them. If there were announcements, a church member could voice them. All I needed to do was show up. I was weak, but God was strong. The church’s spiritual leader was weak, but the Church was strong.

I finally emerged and headed back down the hallway at 10:28 AM. The choir was lining up, and I was able to slip into my spot quietly. The prelude began. We processed in. Everything went as usual. I stepped forward to lead the Prayers of the People.

“The Lord be with you.”

“And also with you.”

I smiled, genuinely smiled, as my brothers and sisters wished me the truth: God was with me. God was with us all. We prayed together. We sang a hymn together. I returned to my seat.

Tricia, the soloist, stepped forward. When I heard the first notes of her guitar, the tears started again.

The song was called, “Grace For the Moment.”

I scanned the congregation and saw tears on many cheeks. Whether saint or sinner, pastor or parishioner, we share this in common: we all need grace for each moment. Though I had been physically alone in that office only thirty minutes earlier, I was far from lonely in the sanctuary of believers.  When the final strums of the guitar faded, the moment when I most needed grace arrived. I stepped into the pulpit and quietly thanked her.

I took a deep breath, raised my open palms, and said, “Let us hear God’s Word.”

Nine months have passed since I walked into church with a heart broken by a break-up. When I reflect on that Sunday, I do not see myself as the “pastor” even though I held the title and preached the sermon. Instead, the people of St. Luke United Methodist Church were my pastor. Their love contributed to the healing I celebrate today. My eyes were red and raw from cheap tissue. But God’s presence, experienced with God’s people, was the balm that makes us all whole again.

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Sucker for a Good Story

1281399898_352838e0a0_zI was married in my second year of seminary, so when I got divorced a couple years ago and re-entered the dating pool, I experienced for the first time the challenge of dating as a lady pastor. I had heard enough stories from my colleagues over the years to expect weird conversations and creepy fascinations. What I didn’t expect was that some of the very qualities that make me a good pastor also make me terrible at dating. I have been raised on the story of God, with Bible stories permeating my life so thoroughly that I barely distinguish them from my actual experiences. I love these stories, to tell them and hear them, and find new ways of interpreting them. My parishioners would tell you they can see and hear that love in my preaching and teaching, and at every congregation I have served, this love has been a strength of my ministry. Here’s the thing, though. Each of these stories, every single one of them, is about how God uses imperfect people to accomplish her perfect will. All of these stories are about how the power of God can change people into something more beautiful, more influential than they were before. And my own experience, in my personal and professional lives alike, reinforces these themes: God can transform people. Which is great, right? I mean, isn’t that part of the pull of the gospel: that it’s transformational? But the conviction that people can change, and that God often works through her faithful people to bring about that change, is a major problem when sitting across the table from a wonderful man, who maybe just has one thing about him that doesn’t fit my needs. If God can change Saul from a murderous persecutor of Christians into the best evangelist ever, God can certainly change my date’s tendency to drink too much, avoid his feelings, or make that same obnoxious and kind of racist joke over and over again. And, here comes the real kicker, God maybe wants to use me to do it! Maybe that’s why this date is happening, as a means of revealing God’s grace and power? In my ministry, and in my friendships, I’ve seen it happen. Words that flow from my mouth, by the leading of the Spirit, make people think and feel differently about themselves and the world. Unconditional love shown to people at vulnerable times enables them to confess long-held secrets and be healed. Being in deep, Christ-centered relationships with people is absolutely life-changing. So, why not in my dating life too? Plus, wouldn’t it be an awesome story to tell from the pulpit, about how the power of God transformed a lackluster date into a life-giving, faith-filled long-term relationship? I’m only half-joking. Of course I know it’s not emotionally healthy to date someone just because you think the power of your faith (and personality) might be good for them. Not to mention, that’s pretty egotistical. So, I’m trying to remember that God may very well work through me to change lives in my ministry, but my personal life is a different story. Especially my dating life. And besides, there’s only one story in the Bible where God calls someone into an intimate relationship to show forth her grace. Remember Hosea and his harlot wife Gomer? Definitely not what I’m looking for. Even if it would make a really good story.

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Love the One You’re With?

3481606161_a866dbfb00_z (3)I can remember being told by some folks while I was in seminary that my best (and perhaps my only) chances of finding someone to love and marry would be before I was ordained. “Good luck finding a man who will be okay with the idea of being hooked up with a pastor,” they said. “If you ever find someone who doesn’t run at the mention of your profession, hold on to him,” they advised. “You’ll need to be ready to compromise and take what you can get,” they stated.

I’m sure that they meant well, but their “advice” was stifling. God had called me to be a pastor, but my profession (I was told) was a natural man-repellant. I imagined that I would either have to leave the ministry to find the man of my dreams or I would just have to settle for whomever came along and didn’t flinch too much when I told them what I did for a living.

For eight years, the ghost of “you’ll never find someone” haunted me. For eight years, the specter of “you’ll just have to settle” loomed over me. If my dating life had a theme song for those eight years, it would have been some haunting version of “Love the One You’re With,” sung in a sorrowful minor key. I was desperate to find real love, but it always seemed just out of my reach. So, like the song directs, I tried to love the one I was with. I tried. But, it didn’t work. I was miserable. Still, I put on a smile and told myself and others that everything was okay.

For eight years, I had forgotten who I was. I had forgotten about the talkative young woman who loved to laugh; instead, I had become the quiet gal who would cry herself to sleep at night. I had forgotten about the young woman who was proud to know which fork to use at a fancy dinner party; instead, I had become the girl who would ashamedly look the other way when her date would pick at his food with his fingers. I had forgotten about the professional young clergywoman who was happy to be a pastor; instead, I had become an apologetic young woman who resented her call.

That was then.

It is hard to describe my experience of resurrection, but “resurrection” is how I would describe my experience. When the person I had been seeing finally admitted that he was merely following the words of that song written by Stephen Stills, too, something inside me finally broke. I could not simply love the one I was with – and neither could he. The soundtrack to my dating life that had started playing while I was in seminary had been a lie. I was done with settling. I was done with thinking that I deserved less than others because of my profession. I was done with being someone I wasn’t.

I was reborn.

Since letting all of those false expectations and assumptions about dating and relationships be laid to rest, I have discovered a greater sense of peace. I know what I want in a relationship, and I have no desire to merely “settle.” I am better than that. God created me to be worth more than that. I deserve to be wanted. I deserve to be respected. I deserve to be genuinely loved. And that will mean that my future partner will have to want me and respect me and love me for who I am – including the fact (not in spite of the fact) that God called me to be a pastor. It may not happen overnight, but I have faith that someday I will not simply love the one I’m with – I will be with the one I truly love; and he will love me the same way.

Empty Beds

Sleeping to One Side

Empty BedsI sleep alone in my Queen-sized bed and I’ve slept alone in this bed for almost two years.  You’d think that after two years, I’d sleep sprawled in the middle of this mattress, limbs stretching as far as they could reach.   But two years after I last had company on this mattress, I still sleep on one side of it.  I can put my iPad and iPhone, four pillows and even a tower of books on the other side of the bed and when I wake up they will all be there, unmoved.  It is hard to break the habits you learn when you share a bed night after night.

I sleep alone in my Queen-sized bed and you’d think that would mean I’ve been single for two years.  But I haven’t…or I have.  It’s complicated.  Everything is complicated when you’re married to a man who is in jail.   I’ve been raising a son alone despite the fact that he has a living father.  I’ve been filing my taxes as “married” despite the fact that I’m the sole bread winner and only adult in the house.  I’ve been going to bed alone despite the fact that I have a husband.   Complicated.

I thought that this would be my forever future – a wife in name only, alone in a marriage bed.  I was committed to it…until I wasn’t.  Well, until I healed enough to be able to hear God’s whispering voice offering me grace and new life.  I heard the voice of God threaded in the waves pounding on the beach of my new city (in my new call), and after two years I made a wrenching choice.  A liberating choice.  I decided it was finally time to get a divorce.

I started ordained ministry as a married woman.  My current call hired me as a married woman.  I was never a single minister, and now I find myself occupying this strange space.  And what’s funny?  Sunday we lit the Advent candle of Peace and today my lawyer files my divorce petition, and I find that incredibly well-timed.  Because I feel incredible peace about choosing to divorce, peace about becoming a single reverend instead of a married one, peace that as the Holy Family makes its way towards Bethlehem for the beginning of Something New I am making my own journey towards Newness as well.

Advent finally makes sense for me as I enter this tumultuous season of my own life.  I know what it is to long for hope, to search for peace, to crave joy, to ask for the love I need.  I know what it is to wait for light after languishing in darkness.  And pardon me while I beat a metaphor into the ground, but I feel pregnant with possibility as I amble into the future.  (Does that make my lawyer the donkey?  Maybe the shepherds?  I’m not sure.  Some metaphors you can only stretch so far I guess.)

Advent means the arrival of something significant, and the advent of my official “singleness” is on the horizon.  But with that singleness comes new possibilities, new relationships, new ways of growing in faith and as a minister to my new congregation.  It’s not here yet, but it’s coming.  What’s the constant refrain of this season?  Wait, wait, wait, wait.  So I’m waiting for the Christ child and I’m waiting for the unknown that hovers over the horizon.  And in the meantime, maybe I’ll finally learn to enjoy the entirety of my Queen-sized bed.

5536556304_0bf9959e67

Love at First Sight

5536556304_0bf9959e67I remember the day in 2010 that I first saw his picture online.  That night, my friend Sarah and I were having dinner at Los Arcos, and over our fajitas I passed her my smartphone so she could share in my delight.  “Oh, he’s so cute!” she gushed.  “I love his eyes.”

“I know,” I said with a smile.  “I really think he might be the one.”  Even though I hadn’t actually met him yet, I just had a feeling after reading his profile that we would be a perfect fit.  The next day, I made a phone call and set up a time for our first encounter.  I was nervous as I pulled in to the parking lot.  What if he didn’t like me?  What if we didn’t click?  I said a silent prayer that all would go well, and walked through the doors of the local Petco.  The moment I laid eyes on him, it was love at first sight.

The dog of my dreams did not instantly take to me, however.  His history was unknown, since he had been found on the streets in pretty rough shape before being brought in to an animal shelter.  That much I knew from reading his online profile, which also told me that he was now perfectly healthy.  With the woman who had been fostering him for the past six weeks, he was very friendly, wagging his tail, nuzzling her hand, making excited noises, and taking treats from her.  When I came near him, he cowered, turning his head away from me, never making eye contact.  Things didn’t go much better when I took the leash from her and attempted to take the dog on a walk around the shopping center.  He stayed low to the ground, shaking a bit, and kept looking over his shoulder as if to see whether he had lost me yet.  It was discouraging, but when we returned to the store and he saw his “foster mom,” he was once again all happy tail wags and smiles.  She assured me that before too long, he would react the same way to me.  The hope of that was enough, and after buying dog food, a few toys, a new crate, and lots of treats, I brought Hurley home.

Adopting an adult dog with a possible history of abuse is not for the faint of heart, and I found myself in tears more than a few times over the next two months.  Some people even told me to send him back to the rescue group, but I took seriously the commitment I had made.  I believed (and still do) that the life of this creature mattered to God, and that he had been entrusted to me.  I thought of how often I have mistrusted God’s love, and how patient God has had to be with me.  Progress was slow, but it was there.  I learned that I had to work at Hurley’s pace, not mine, and build trust bit by bit.  The first few weeks, he would sleep hidden behind a chair in my living room, as far away from me as he could get.  Eventually he started sleeping in his crate in my bedroom, and by three months into our relationship, he was hogging more than half my bed.  I didn’t mind, even on the nights he snored.

As a way of getting Hurley over his social anxiety, I took him along with me to parks, restaurants, the beach, the farmers market, local festivals, and even enrolled him in a doga (dog yoga) class, anything to expose him to new people and places in an enjoyable way.  We also joined a terrific obedience class that allowed Hurley to be part of a group of other dogs working on commands amid real world distractions.  His canine friends helped Hurley feel secure in crowded shopping centers, busy pet stores, large parks, and other areas.  Through all of these activities, I was exposed to new places and people as well.  Being an introvert and still relatively new to the area, this was a little scary for me, but I formed strong bonds with a few of the people (and dogs) we met.  It was good for me as well as Hurley to be outside our comfort zones.

I knew that getting a dog would be a big responsibility.  What I didn’t realize was how much I needed to be responsible for someone else.  Having lived alone for so long, I was not used to putting someone else’s needs ahead of my own.  Hurley changed that.  Before Hurley, a breakup with a boyfriend or some other perceived crisis could leave me too heartbroken to get out of bed all day.  Now I have to get up no matter how I feel, to make sure Hurley gets walked and fed, and that reminds me that I need exercise and food as well.  There are no days off from this.  He also serves as something of an early warning system in the treacherous world of online dating.  The first time I let a potential boyfriend meet my dog, I have learned the hard way that if Hurley barks at him (since Hurley almost never barks at anything), that guy is bad news.  Dogs are excellent judges of character, if you ask me.

Three years after adopting him, it is hard to imagine my life without Hurley in it.  My neighbors know his name as well as they know mine, and I would probably never have met most of them if not for the daily ritual of walking the dog.  A couple of my friends were so moved by the bond they saw between Hurley and me that they decided to get dogs of their own, and it seems to have improved their lives, too.  When I come home from a long shift at the hospital, exhausted from ministering to people in crisis, it makes all the difference in the world to know that Hurley is waiting for me.  No matter what mood I am in, he will run to the door to greet me, wagging his tail, making his happy noises, and showing me his famous smile.  If I have been crying, he will give me kisses when I kneel to pet him, and sometimes will even put his head on my shoulder.  I can’t help but be cheered up by that.  We will go for a walk, and I will begin to let go of some of the stress and sadness of work.  If I have time to take him to the beach or the park later on, Hurley will let me know that this is the best day of his life, again.  I need that reminder of the joy in small things and the gift of the present moment.  Hurley is an excellent teacher.  Hardly a day goes by that I don’t thank God for entrusting us to one another.