The Liturgy of the Mandarin Orange: A Divorce Ceremony

71064921_1402685c56_zThe mandarin was Aurelia’s idea. The rest of the rituals had been pre-planned by me, but her spontaneity with the fruit helped. Let me explain. We were throwing a funeral for my marriage.

It seemed to me that my grief needed somewhere to go. My grief needed a container, a sacred space, a ritual embrace. This is what funerals do for the loved ones of the deceased, but no one throws you a wake when your marriage dies. So this was one of those instances where I decided to be a minister to myself and give my marriage a proper burial. I asked Aurelia to bear witness, that is, to preside as priest.

I started the day alone in the woods, writing a letter to my younger self, which said,

Dear Kyndall,

Looking at your favorite wedding gown photo, you almost seem like a different person, like I am looking at someone else. I guess if I could tell you anything, I would say, “Baby, it is going to be okay. You are going to get hurt again, keep getting hurt, but you cannot be faulted for loving. You are passionate and you are all in, and honey, that wasn’t wrong. I don’t think you made a mistake by getting married. You made a choice, just like you’re making a different choice now. You took a risk, and now you are facing the heartache that came from risking, but to take the risk wasn’t wrong or stupid. It was full of heart and yes, some youthful naïveté, some loving blindness, and even some desperate willing ignorance at times, but baby, you were doing your damn best at love and forgiveness and mended trust, and that is nothing you ever need to be ashamed of.

You were willing to love every inch of a broken man, and that was an okay thing to do, even if it didn’t work. Even though your love didn’t win him over or heal him or fix him in the end. Now it is time to give up your hope that he will change, hand it to God or to whoever, but it isn’t your burden anymore, to try and make him okay. You are released.

Your Slightly Wiser Self


Next I wrote the goodbye letter to the marriage. This letter was tougher to write: “I’ve never had anything this close to me die…when I die, I’d prefer one of those biodegradable caskets so that eventually my body returns to the dust, where it can one day provide nourishment to the trees.” And so as I thought about my deceased marriage, I said to it, “I want to plant you into the soil of my becoming. I want to bury you with the fallen leaves and the rotting wood and the smelly manure, and I want to trust that you have nutrients to provide me, even in your painful stench. I want to integrate my past into my future. I want to make you sacred ground with my reverence and my intentional watering. I want to learn all your lessons.”

After the letter writing, Aurelia joined me. We sat by the river and I read her some of my darkest poems and journal entries. That way someone could bear witness to the pain. She said some words appropriate to the pain, but also hopeful, like a good minister would. I had gathered a pile of sticks beside me, and then I hurled them, one-by-one, into the water and named what I needed to let go of. Again, she listened.

We needed some comic relief, so Aurelia spontaneously turned our snack into a liturgy too (like a good minister might), such that as we peeled off the skin of the mandarin, we were praying too. It was lighthearted but genuine.

Next we moved to hope. This was symbolized by our hiking up to the top of a hill. Once we reached the top, Aurelia pulled out a candle and lit it as a tiny, nonverbal way to say, “God is here.”

I wrote new vows to myself.

We prayed some faltering prayers. Aurelia read out loud to me letter after letter from my friends and family, all of them saying exactly why they felt hope for me. I think in the New Testament, they call this the laying on of hands, though it was just me and Aurelia up there on the mountain top.

After that we began the descent. We headed back down to regular life with all its challenges where we discovered my car battery had died in the parking lot. A helpful transgender stranger gave my car a jump, and then Aurelia and I headed for a gluttonous lunch to wrap it all up, which I believe the Bible calls feasting.

And now here I am, more than a year past divorce, past the day of ritual goodbye, and while it didn’t fix my sadness to hold a funeral, it widened my capacity to heal. It provided a place for my grief to go. It helped me move in the direction of hope, which is what a ceremony is meant to do.

To my minister friends, I would say this, no matter how tough it gets, never stop being a minister to yourself, and don’t forget to tell your friends when you need a priest.






Dwell with Me in Darkness

I just want to know, God.
When you spoke about binding up the broken-hearted,
right there between good news for the poor
and release for the captives,
who did you have in mind?


Is there space for those who,
long past the point that it’s socially acceptable
to drown one’s sorrows in ice cream,
still find cheeks wet with tears?


Amidst all the brokenness of this world–
boundary lines breached as nation rises up against nation,
tears in the fabric of society as the rich distance themselves from the poor,
fractures in the inner being, splits in the psyche,
relationships ruptured by a hastily spoken word,
cracks in the climate of a planet gone hot–
amidst all this,
can you be attentive also to a broken heart?

Bring out the best binding cloths, God.
The ones that can bear the strain of a spirit torn in two directions.
Stitch together the divided halves of my heart.
See all that is raw,
Behold the places where life-blood pulses behind the woundedness,
Touch tenderly.


For all your humanity, the scriptures give us no indication
that you ever wept when waking up to emptiness on the other side of the bed,
or had to summon words to tell mutual friends that two had become one,
but not in the way you’d hoped.


But surely you know something about broken-heartedness, don’t you, God?
You who were one-time sorry you made humankind;
You who cried over Jerusalem
and wept real tears when they told you Lazarus was dead;
You who know the betrayal of friend,
the anger of crowds,
the abandonment of the cross;
you know how the heart can break
and ache
and bleed.


Three days of darkness, and you broke through those graveclothes meant to bind.
Let it be the same with me, O God.
Bind me up, dwell with me in darkness,
and then let there be life.

Speaking the Language

3225393556_ac00870158_zAs someone who does ministry amid the Harry Potter generation, I had originally started reading about fan culture a few years ago as a way to feel productive while distracting myself from the pain of my divorce. Somewhere along the way, I became convinced that people who create community around loving a particular narrative property were engaging in an inherently spiritual enterprise. I know the characters and story arcs of far too many of these properties, even without fully viewing or reading a good many of them. I speak the language, know all the abbreviations, and even the best fics. I can identify D.C and Marvel heroes, several varieties of anime, as well as the Hogwart’s House to which the last four actors to star in Dr. Who belong. Don’t even try to play mis-name Benedict Cumberbatch with me because I can go all day.

Clearly, this particular fascination is what makes me worthy to be sitting here. Eating BBQ.  Nodding politely as my date slides into minute 17 of a lecture on the superiority of World of Warcraft. It’s my fault, really. He mentioned that he’d been a professional gamer for awhile and I absolutely needed to know how that worked. How was I to know that this involved intricately detailing every version of the game for the past 10 years?

Apparently, I know just enough about superhero movies, comic books, and video games to be dangerous…if by dangerous you mean sitting in a BBQ joint across from a man who is so excited that I can speak his language, he “doesn’t even care that you’re a pastor.”


And that’s the rub, isn’t it? Being single is hard enough sometimes. Dating – online or in person – can be frustrating. But dating as a pastor makes us a tad special snowflake-y. We expend a great deal of energy worrying about finding someone who will not only get us, but also understand the Call. Someone who, if they can’t speak the language, is at least willing to learn enough to get by.

“S/he doesn’t care that I’m a pastor! Cue the trumpets!”

Except that we’re actually not looking for someone for whom our profession doesn’t matter, but rather for someone for whom it matters positively. Someone who likes that we’re a minister. Someone who sees the value in loving a person with a deep sense of purpose, even when that purpose appears insane to the outside world.

In my mid-twenties I thought I’d achieved that, marrying my ex-husband because he seemed to speak flawless Heather-ese. He knew all the right words for all of my worlds and I believed a shared vocabulary was enough. But like any language student can tell you, speaking the words only gets you so far. To really become fluent, you need to immerse yourself in the culture by learning the history and celebrating the holidays. You need to read the famous novels and sing the folk songs. Above all, you need to be willing to be vulnerable, to love the people enough that the hard work becomes both compelling and rewarding. If you can’t, or won’t, all the pocket dictionaries in the world won’t help. You’ll soon find yourself back home, a touch sad to have left perhaps, but ultimately relieved to be making space for something else.

In the end, I politely declined to see WoW boy again. He is, as far as I know, a good person with honorable intentions. He just wasn’t interested in learning my language on any substantive level; though he did make vague attempts to speak religion-ese, comparing video game dragons to real world evil.

I could have gone out with him a few more times, attempted to become more fluent and therefore more involved, but I’ve done that once and know it doesn’t end well. Besides, I’m getting pretty good at this being single thing; emphasizing the positive aspects while acknowledging the drawbacks. Jesus isn’t my boyfriend, but his call affirms me in my search for someone who wants to be a part of my world enough to turn off Google translate.

Single Mom by Choice: Finally Meeting the Love of My Life

The author and her daughter, on the day they met

The author and her daughter, on the day they met

The call came on an otherwise normal Thursday morning. I was on my way to church for our weekly worship and staff meetings, running late because I had hit the snooze button one too many times. I’d skipped a shower, and was looking forward to my day off on Friday so I could tackle the pile of laundry and housework that I’d been neglecting. And then, the phone call: “There’s a baby girl at the hospital. Would you like to meet her?”

In the space of a short phone call, my life was changed. The next few hours were a whirlwind. Arriving at church and explaining that I would be leaving for the hospital shortly; waiting in the lobby for my social worker to arrive so we could go into the NICU together; finding out that the nurses wanted this baby to go home right away, despite the fact that she still only weighed 3lbs, 11oz; running to Target to buy preemie diapers and wipes and a new car seat while the hospital finished the paperwork. As I rocked the baby in the NICU, I kept telling the nurses, “but I didn’t shower today! But my house is a mess!” And the nurses just said, “She doesn’t care,” as I nuzzled her tiny face and stroked her miniature hands. The initial call had come just before 9 am, and by 3:30 in the afternoon, I was driving home from the hospital with an impossibly tiny baby in the backseat, terrified, exhilarated, unbelieving, and incredibly grateful. Thus began my life as a mother. A single mother. A single mother by choice.

It took about a year to go through the process to be licensed to adopt through the foster care system. I took many hours of classes, had several home studies for safety and preparedness, and multiple interviews full of invasive questions. Lots of paperwork, fingerprints, and even a blood test all led up to the final interview where I told my social worker what kind of child I wanted, and she finalized my license. The process might sound intimidating, but it was really just jumping through hoops, one after another, with lots of help and support from my social workers along the way. It didn’t cost me anything, besides the cost of baby-proofing hardware and the time for classes. The fact that I was a lesbian was a non-issue, and the fact that I was single was also fine. I rented my apartment (no problem), and didn’t make a lot of money (hello, I’m a minister!), but I had a daycare lined up, and lots of experience with children (former nanny). Most importantly, I knew I was called to be a mother. I knew that I wasn’t willing to wait any longer for the “right” partner to come along to start my journey towards motherhood, and I knew that it might take quite a while to have a child placed with me, given my preference for a newborn girl with a good chance of being adoptable. So, I entered into the process with my county, and once I was licensed, I sat back and waited.

I was licensed in May, and I brought my daughter home in November. Everyone agreed that I won the baby lottery. There were court dates and waiting periods, but they were formalities. It was clear from early on that she would be staying with me and I would be able to adopt her. To be frank, this is rare with an infant in foster care. There are often visitation rights for birth parents, and lots of chances for them to change their situations in order to get their children back. I have friends who have cared for infants and hoped to adopt them, only to have them reunited with their birth parents. When you sign up to bring a child into your life in this way, you must prepare yourself for these possibilities. It’s a risk, yes, but adopting privately or internationally or being pregnant all include very similar risks of loss and heartbreak. What is important to remember is that any amount of time you spend nurturing a child and bonding with them is beneficial, even if they don’t end up staying with you forever.

As I said, I won the baby lottery. I took my daughter home when she was ten days old, and we haven’t spent a night apart in almost two and a half years. Our adoption was finalized when she was ten months old, and soon after, we were able to meet her eldest sister and that sister’s adoptive parents. We are family, and speak often, getting together whenever we can so that the sisters have a chance to know and love each other.

One of the benefits for doing fost-adopt for a single parent is that there is financial help to offset the costs of raising your child. Free health insurance, WIC, childcare reimbursement, and a monthly stipend to help with expenses were all essential parts of making it work for us. The myth of shady foster parents who “do it for the money” is laughable when you calculate the cost of raising a child versus what the county gives you, but it certainly helps, especially for a single Rev.

It would be an understatement to say that my daughter had a rough start in life: a toxic experience in the womb, a traumatic birth, and her first ten days spent in the hospital connected to tubes and wires with no one to love her but the (amazing, but very busy) nurses. She was so small that many people couldn’t believe they had allowed me to take her home, and she required many hours of occupational therapy and exercises, as well as intense bonding to heal her brain. She didn’t roll over until she was eight months old. But by the time she was eighteen months old, she was tested as advanced in every area of development. Many people were nervous for me, worried that I would have to give her back, or that she would be “damaged” in some way. But I had faith that she was my daughter, and she would be fine, and she is both.

Being a single mother by choice is not what I’d call easy, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I don’t have a partner to help watch the baby while I’m at meetings or in the shower, and that’s hard. However, I also don’t have to make compromises about my parenting style or choices with another parent. There have been many times that I’ve witnessed disagreements between friends about their children that I’ve quietly thanked God I am single. I’m the Mama. Period. And it may not be easy, but it is wonderful.

Discerning whether or not you are called to be a mother is difficult for some people. For me, it was a call I was sure of long before I felt a call to ministry, and when I was ready to begin the process, I was single. We’ve all been sold the fairytale of marriage, house, career, and baby, but it doesn’t always come in that order, and it doesn’t have to. There are children who need homes, and a structure in place to help you parent them, if that is your calling. As for me, I’ve found the Love of My Life, and her name is Beatrix.

The Search

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“It’s pretty much like internet dating.”

This has become my standard answer when people ask me how the Presbyterian call system works. For most folks who are single or have been single in the last decade or so, the comparison always gets a laugh. For those who have been married since before the wonders and horrors of and OKCupid existed, it can cause a bit of confusion, so I explain, “There’s a website, and pastors put up their profiles, and churches put up their profiles, and then the system matches them up.”

That’s the simple version, of course. In reality, as a single pastor who recently went through this process to find my second call, I found that the similarities were so strong that I couldn’t do both at once. As I told a friend, “I have a limited amount of energy for self-promotion.”

It’s not just the basic structure of the thing. I discovered many more similarities:

Spelling counts. Call me shallow or judgmental, but whether it’s a guy who says “U seem prety cool” or a church committee who can’t spell my name, I mentally subtract a lot of points for inattention to detail.

-First conversations are awkward. There’s just no getting around it. Whether it’s a phone or skype interview with a committee or a first date at a coffee shop, it’s just going to be awkward. There will be sweaty palms and nervousness and wondering whether what you just said sounded completely idiotic. Just accept the awkward.

The waiting. Oh, the waiting. Sitting by the phone and refreshing your e-mail every 30 seconds will not make either a second date or a second interview appear, unfortunately.

-Don’t jump the gun. I talked to a few committees whose very first question in the first phone interview was “Why are you the right pastor for our church?” I generally said something like, “I’m not sure that I am. Why don’t you tell me a little bit more about the ministry your church is doing?” I don’t think any of those churches called me back, and truthfully I was okay with that. To me, this is like asking on a first date, “Why should I want to marry you?” It’s our first conversation! In our ecclesiology, the relationship between a church and a pastor should be one of mutuality, of working together in the body of Christ. That means we both need to get to know one another, to see if God is calling us to do ministry together.

-A sense of humor is vital. Amidst the awkwardness and nervousness on both sides, whether it’s a date or an interview or a candidating weekend, laughter is always a good sign in my book. When I did accept a call to a new church, it was partly because I honestly just had a ton of fun with them when I came to visit.

-Pastors are people, too. Among single clergy, deciding whether or not to name our profession on a dating profile can be a fraught question. Many people have trouble seeing a pastor as a regular human who has a life outside of the church. In the dating world, most of us single clergy have heard, “I’m sorry, I just can’t date a pastor. It’s too weird.” Search committees also sometimes forget that pastors are people, that a call to a new church can mean uprooting a life and starting over from scratch. I knew my new call would be a good fit when they not only asked me about my life, but made sure that on my tour of the town they pointed out things they knew would matter to me as a person. When the committee members say, “Here’s a great vet for your dog,” or “Let me take you to the park with the running trail because I know you like to run,” it shows that they are looking for a person, not a set of impressive credentials.

-When you know, you know. When I found the right church, it just clicked. I’ve heard that something similar happens when you find the right person. Whether in dating or in searching for a new call, the process is different for everyone. For some it takes a long time, and the waiting can be incredibly frustrating. In the meantime, find some trusted friends who can help share the journey with all its many ups and downs.

Perhaps now that I’ve settled into my new call, it’s time to give online dating another try. Then again, maybe not. The break from the “U R hott” messages has been pretty nice.

The Break-Up Flowers

They got delivered on Sunday by mistake. The florist had a backlog of funeral arrangements to deliver and the bouquet to commemorate my loss got pushed back until Sunday. I told the florist to deliver them to the parsonage “first thing” but the florist version of “first thing” Sunday morning deviated by at least an hour from the pastor version.

A zealous usher saw the florist knocking at the parsonage next door and waved her over to the church. So there they were, on my desk, a half hour before game time, a beautiful reminder of what I was trying to forget.

A week earlier –

before the church retreat

and before the excessive sermon preparation that doubled as pain killers

(who doesn’t drown their sorrows in Greek conjugations?)

and before the pastoral visits I made with the shards of a broken heart

clattering around inside me

before I could marvel at my ability to soldier through

before I could despair that no one could tell any difference…

…A week earlier, my boyfriend and I broke up. And, let me tell you, this was not one of those amicable and mature unicorns of a break-up. I called my friends and cried, then I picked myself up and carried on. The heartbreak felt so personal. It was mine to carry so I did the thing I was never sure I’d be able to do in the midst of a break up. I did my job. Not well. Not completely, but enough, and the Holy Spirit filled in the gaps, as she always and so graciously does.

But now there were flowers on my desk. And a note that read “You are not alone,” which–despite the whirring copier in the office and the deacons counting a special collection next door and the tech team setting up nearby and my colleague standing in my study running through our last minute preparations – was exactly how I felt.

A well-meaning church member stopped in the doorway, complimented my flowers and politely inquired, “May I ask the occasion?”

“They’re from friends.”

“Do you think we could use them on the altar this morning?”

“No.” I said.

We blinked at each other, both a little uncomprehending. Her offer was innocent enough but it met, in me, a feisty conviction that there was already enough of me on that altar.

So much of our lives, as pastors, belongs to the church: our prayers, our contemplations of Scripture, our time, our compassion. They belong to the church. And we are blessed that, in our giving, we often land in the right place to receive.

But what I learned that Sunday morning from the accidental flowers on my desk is that, sometimes, the grace gets to be just for you.

“No,” I told her. My break up flowers don’t belong to the church. This break-up will never be a sermon illustration. It won’t make me a better chair-person. I won’t discover a secret love of nursing home visitation once the pain has worn off. This break up won’t make me a better pastor. And maybe that’s okay because it wasn’t meant to. There’s already enough of me on that altar.

If the heartbreak is mine to carry then the break-up flowers are mine too. Because I’m human and I took a risk and, at least for now, it didn’t pay off. Because I get to be vulnerable and courageous as a person, not just as your pastor. Because I have friends in my corner. And because, sometimes, the grace gets to be just for me.


As A Mother

The sweetest part of my day is the sound of little voices calling “Mother, mother.” I have never given birth, nor have I adopted children. But most mornings, as I open the door to my church, I am greeted by the tiny denizens of my church’s preschool, and their chipper little hellos. They call me Mother; that’s the title I prefer as a parish priest. They say it with such confidence that it makes me want to be a better pastor, one worthy of the title “Mother.”

As a woman who has not had children, I have limited (mostly second-hand) knowledge of the work of mothering children. I have worked at a nursery school, assisted with younger siblings, and have done a great deal of babysitting. But I have never walked the floor with a colicky baby. I have never had to play the tooth fairy for a child too excited to sleep. I have never had a teenager sit at my kitchen table, her head hung in shame as I question her about blatantly violating her curfew.

I have, however, listened to the weekly frustrations of a parishioner with big dreams for the church. I have helped plan big surprises for parishioners in need of real cheering. I have spoken with community members about respecting our church and its values. I have even had to let someone know he was not welcome to participate in non-worship activities as long as his disruptive behavior continued.

In Christ, I am becoming a spiritual mother. That has more to do with the way I am called to love my parishioners than the ways in which they are called to treat me. That is the fundamental truth of parenting—it is a one-way street. You love for the sake of loving, not because of the love you hope to get at the end. And in doing so, however imperfectly, you hope to draw people more fully into relationship with the God who loves them endlessly and perfectly.

Our primary work as pastors is love. Everything we do: teaching, preaching, administrating, caring–all of it is the work of love. We shepherd people toward a deeper relationship with God, to preach and teach in a way that instructs, strengthens, and transforms. We help people grow (and grow up) into the fullness of Christ. We stand with people when they are heartbroken, we cheer them on when they feel discouraged. We love folks whether or not they are loving or loveable. We are called to love them whether they are A+ Jesus followers or D- community disrupters, and (mostly) we are called to love people who are both. We are called to remember that love isn’t always hugs, affirmations, and encouragements. Sometimes loving someone means asking a person to step back from leadership, or to stop behaving in a disrespectful or hurtful manner. Sometimes love means saying “no” or “not now.”

During Holy Week when the computer breaks, I have a frustrated parishioner on the phone, and my sermon feels like a wash, I still can’t think of anything I want to do more (except sleep). Doesn’t that sound like motherhood? Pastoring is day after day of nurture and patience, in a life that is by turns hope-filled and exasperating. Priesthood is the everyday ordinariness of serving others. And yes, it is also joy. Yeah. I’ll admit it. I love the people of God. Even when things are completely off kilter, I get up most mornings and can hardly believe God called me to this wacky, amazing, and wondrous work. Loving the people I serve is giving me (I hope) a mother’s heart.


The Single Rev by Choice, for a Season


You know the poem about how people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime?

Singleness sometimes feels like it has come into my life (unbidden) for a lifetime, but I’m choosing it for this season.

God and I have had words about this singleness business on more than one occasion. The arguments were particularly intense when I was in seminary in my late twenties and still remembered the comforts of a stable, long-term relationship. The conversation generally went like this:

Me: You know, you didn’t have to wrestle me to get me to follow my calling. I came to this faithfully. I gave up a high powered political path with no complaint. I was glad to accept a life of poverty since you called me to urban ministry and congregational transformation. But I never thought you would make me do it ALONE. It never crossed my mind that you wouldn’t supply me with a partner.

God: <crickets>

And because I was raised not to call God a dick, that was usually where it ended.

The last of those one-sided fights was probably ten years ago, but for about ten years I’ve tried to take matters into my own hands with hundreds of Internet dates and even a few dates with people I met in person. I’ve even dated a few guys for as long as six months (although usually just about two).

But the resentment has lingered. It’s flared up when I think about how many men I’ve let treat me badly in the hopes that they were who would be a companion, or just because I wanted the company or the intimacy. And it has smoldered when I chose casual flings because I had given up on finding someone who could actually meet me as an equal in relationship.

And then this summer I did what a good feminist or a woman who doesn’t want to appear pathetic should never do: I admitted, out loud, that I’m lonely. And I’ve been lonely on and off for thirteen years. And the friend I told said, “See, you’re my cautionary tale. I don’t want that to be me.”

Fortunately, I had other friends, one of whom encouraged me to engage in a season of singleness to mourn the fact that I may never have that type of partnership in my life, to actually confront it and ritualize it and pray on it.

So September 1 (two months after my last boyfriend disappeared when I suggested that maybe we both had baggage and that wasn’t a sign that a relationship couldn’t work), I started to do just that. I started a season of singleness that would go through Thanksgiving (although I recently extended it to the new year because it feels so good).

My Day 30 breakthrough was huge: trying to hide from lonely doesn’t make it go away. I need to find a way to co-exist with lonely. (A book I read later noted that part of what makes loneliness so terrifying isn’t just the loneliness but the fact that it’s layered with shame and judgment. Letting go of those other things and letting myself just feel lonely has made me realize it’s a feeling I can live with when it shows up.)

The next thirty days made me aware that part of what was hard about not having a partner was how little control I felt about my situation. And that led me to put up with treatment that I didn’t deserve from guys who probably didn’t deserve me. Part of what’s fun about my season of singleness has been that even if my situation is exactly the same as it would have been if I were unintentionally single, I feel less helpless. Plus, the single life is monumentally less bad than the awful stuff God put Jeremiah through with his wife. That guy gets to complain about his relationship status to the divine. (Note: Days 30-60 were aided monumentally by the podcast series Strangers by Lea Thau, who did a four-parter on her struggles with singleness and also the book It’s Not You about the 27 lousy things people say to singles about what we should fix in order to be partnered and how those things are all wrong.)

As I approach Day 90, I’m getting honest about the fact that there are things about living alone I really don’t like and recognizing there might be things I actually have some power over, like considering community living. Extroversion and living alone aren’t always a fun combination.

But what’s probably most important is that I’m taking a little more ownership and am finally at a place of considering other options instead of remaining in a resentful stalemate with the All Powerful.

I still wish I could find someone to be a source of support, someone to share my joy-filled moments as well as my struggles. But I’m less afraid of feeling lonely and more open to other ways of getting my companionship needs met.

And I haven’t wanted to call God a dick in a couple of months, so the most serious relationship in my life is showing definite signs of improvement.

The Risky Thing About Risk

4373711411_ef063a334f_zI spent my first two years of ministry scared to death.

Now, preaching and teaching do contain some measure of risk, and running a committee meeting can be a risky endeavor. These things were part of what I knew I was signing up for when I was ordained. They were part of the job. Likewise, so were sitting with families while a loved one died, listening while a young student confessed his fear that God can’t love him, praying with people in hospital rooms, and moderating arguments between warring volunteer organizations. These were sacred moments, and I quickly learned it was part of my job to be present in them. However, fast on the heels of that revelation came my deep fear that I would handle a situation poorly and manage to break the church. Or at least greatly disappoint them.

Somehow in my preparation for ministry, I missed the enormously important part about how I would be changed as I began to live into my calling.  And even though I knew I was (and am) in desperate need of healing of my sinful self on a daily basis, I didn’t count my fear as part of what needed to be changed. Instead, through trying to control my fear, I developed an obnoxious and overbearing attitude that I was convinced made me seem to have it all together all the time. In reality it made me obnoxious, overbearing, and terrified that the church would find out how scared I really was.

When Jesus is healing someone in the gospels, the healing happens after the person in need moves toward Jesus. For each one, there had to have been some kind of recognition that things were not okay, and something had to give. They could not suffer the present reality much longer and now was the time to seize the day—or the hem of a traveling teacher’s garment. It was risky to reach out like that, but God was there on the other side. For a long time, I wasn’t ready for that.

Then, in my second year of ministry, my mother began dying from cancer and as what was normal turned from family dinners to hospice care, I took what felt like a huge risk. I let go of my attitude, filled the congregation in, and asked them to hold my family in prayer. And as my mother’s health failed, I gave up my fear of disappointing my church for the hard truth: I was not okay and I needed them to know.

Somehow I had been convinced I would be letting the church down if I asked for their help. That’s not what happened at all. Instead the church prayed, the choir figured out who would take care of my dog while I went home, and members even came to my mother’s funeral. In hindsight it seems obvious, but at the time I was not expecting grace to be present on the other side.

And then a few months later, in the way of my denomination, I was sent to a new church in a new city. The temptation to fall back on my abilities to act like I had things together to get me through the transition was strong, but this time I had learned something.

So I asked some people to hold me accountable. I was going to work on taking risks, I told them. I was sure I’d caught it in time, and would do better this time around. My new church wouldn’t have to suffer from an associate pastor consumed with fear that she wasn’t good enough to do the job. I was going to trust that there would be grace enough to get me through.

At first, I took small steps: asking my senior pastor for help prioritizing my workload because projects were falling through the cracks, agreeing to share personal testimony about grieving my mother during the sermon one Sunday, and seeking out the people who rubbed me the wrong way and working to get to know them better. Then I found myself visiting some small groups and preaching sermons while asking the church to heed God’s call to transformation.

It was a start. But as challenging and rewarding as those moves were, I knew I was still holding back. I was preaching a call to transformation, but I was not willing to seek it for myself. I might have given over my professional life, but it was becoming frighteningly apparent that I needed to put my emotions and feelings on the line. I couldn’t pray that God would open up my understanding if I was not willing to open myself up as well.

You see, I still had massive Do Not Enter signs up around my personal life. And it was remarkably hypocritical to walk alongside these new people in their vulnerable moments knowing that I was still holding on to my old protective shell of fear.

So, what changed? I met someone. And our relationship has helped me to change.

This is not a fairytale, where meeting the Right One means all fades to black with a shimmer of magical escapism. But it is true that in this instance in my life, this conviction to take risks and let go of some fears coincided with meeting someone I sincerely like (like, a lot).

And since then, I’ve been thanking God for this someone on a daily basis. Not just because he is fun to be around, lovely to behold, and interested in the particulars of what makes a life of faith a good life, but because—call it Providence or whatever you will—he came into my life and I knew if I wanted to build a relationship with him, I couldn’t stay the same. And thanks be to God that I haven’t.

The rest of the truth is this: I am writing from the midst of a struggle that is ongoing. I’ve already disappointed myself and deflected some questions and avoided some topics because I’m still scared. But this time I hope that being scared means I’m making progress. I am finally leaning out past my fear to catch a glimpse of what good things might be in store down the road. This person I’ve met is definitely willing to offer me grace. And I know that in order to get there, scared or not, I’ll need to keep taking risks.

A New Home for a Wedding Dress

6259478065_c844a23a6e_zWhat to do with a wedding dress after a divorce?

I love my dress. I remember the way it felt, when I first put it on. I knew it was my dress. I loved the way I looked in it. I loved the way I felt in it. I have kept it since I got married 8 years ago. It is safely preserved, wrapped in hopes that one day, my daughter or one of the young women I have pastored might wear it. But, I am the mother of one son, and I don’t think young girls grow up dreaming of wearing their youth pastor’s wedding dress.

So what do you do with your wedding dress after a divorce? I love my dress and would happily get married in it again, though I suspect that is in very poor taste. A new marriage deserves a new dress. And even if I remarry and have more children, both of which I hope to do, would my daughter want to wear my dress from my first marriage?

Well-meaning friends suggested I donate my dress to a community theater or a high school for a costume. I didn’t want my dress to sit in some closet, gathering dust. Others suggested that I donate it to a charity, but none of those suggestions felt right to me.

I wanted my dress to go to a good cause, to help another bride feel as beautiful as I felt when I wore it. But since multiple offers to pass my dress along to engaged friends came to naught, I listed my dress for sale at a pre-owned wedding dress website, filled with mixed emotions. After one month, no one had expressed interest, so I lowered the price, which was harder than I thought it would be.

While checking Facebook one evening, I saw a post from a friend of mine about her recent donation of her wedding dress to Angel Gowns, an organization that uses wedding dresses to make baptismal and burial gowns for babies in the NICU of Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth, TX. As a former hospice chaplain and as a mother, my heart broke for those families whose babies might not make it, for those families whose babies did not make it.

I remember my son’s difficult birth circumstances and the short window when his health was uncertain. I remember the moments turned to hours turned to days of praying for God’s healing hand. I remember how deeply touched I was by the blessing of our friends and family holding us in prayer.

A wave of peace came over me as I thought about the possibility of donating my dress. I would know that my dress had gone to a good cause that was very personal to me, for an organization in the area where I was raised.

Not an hour after I had become excited about this possibility, I received notification that someone wanted to buy my dress. I did not care about the money, but I did feel a sense of responsibility to hold up my agreement to sell since the dress was still listed on the website. But Angel Gowns felt like the right thing. Should I sell or donate my dress? Fellow young clergywomen gave me their opinions, but basically told me it was up to me.

I decided to donate. I read more about Angel Gowns and learned that not only could you support them by donating your dress, you could also support them by being a seamstress. The website offered patterns you could print at home with detailed instructions for how to convert wedding dresses into beautiful, unique baptismal and burial gowns for NICU babies.

I love to sew. My grandmother and I have made countless quilts together, from t-shirt quilts to quilts made from my son’s baby clothes to quilts to comfort those who are sick. Concerned she might object to cutting up my wedding dress, I told her about the organization and my hope that she and I could make the gowns together. She loved the idea, and so did my mother.

In all honesty, I am nervous about cutting up my dress. I know I made the right decision to divorce, but that does not mean the absence of grief or sorrow. My hope is that transforming my dress into baby gowns will redeem it somehow, let the best parts of its beauty and my memories of it live on for other families. Maybe my labor in sewing will help me to heal.

I give thanks for my healthy son. I know that not all mothers’ prayers are answered with healthy babies, but for some reason, mine was. Every time I look at my son, I see God’s answered prayers and the miracle of life.

As my dress is cut into pieces, may it be made new, broken to be transformed from one into many, from remnants to new life. May our sewing labor infuse each stitch with love and faith. May the mothers who dress their babies in our gowns feel our prayers surrounding them. May they feel the power and strength of other mothers around the world standing in solidarity with them as they love and care for their children.

And may we remember that in both death and life, God our Mother is with us, and she is always faithful.