A few months ago I attended a CREDO conference, a week-long conference offered to Presbyterian and Episcopal clergy through their health and pension benefit. It’s something like a cross between a conference and a retreat that centers on four areas: spiritual health, vocational health, mental and physical health, and financial health. It includes plenary sessions, small groups, daily worship, and opportunities to consult one-on-one with the conference faculty members. There is pre-work and post-work inviting reflection on values and connecting those values with a “rule of life.” Much like a monk or a nun who lives by a rule, the conference offered an invitation to create our own rule (unlike monks and nuns who don’t get to write it themselves) and to implement it in our life.

A decorative image showing four people, two white men, one white woman, and a Black woman, smiling into the camera against a backdrop of local trees in Louisiana

The author and her small group at CREDO 397 in Loranger, Louisiana.

I am no stranger to rules of life. Before joining the Episcopal church, as a Baptist-raised liturgy-leaning teenager, I went on a weekend retreat at St. Gregory’s Abbey in Three Rivers, Michigan and became entranced by the daily office. Upon returning to my parents’ home, I began to implement my own daily regimen of prayers, attempting to pray the entire Psalter in a month as the monks did. As with most of my spiritual and devotional innovations, it fell to the wayside, but the desire remained. I continued to feel a tug, a pull, to live a more structured spiritual life. Read more

The new year in American culture rings in the reminder of all the ways our culture wants to change us. Diets and special offers for gyms and workout programs flood our emails and social media feeds, triggering within us the idea that we need to improve. 

Resolutions aren’t a new concept. In fact, the Ancient Babylonians made resolutions for the new year, but they celebrated in mid-March as the signs of spring and new life were beginning to appear. When the new year changed to January 1 in Ancient Rome, it was a deeply religious time, a time to look back at the past year and make commitments to change for the better spiritually. But over time in American culture, these ancient practices have shifted away from the spiritual realm and concentrate mainly on physical improvements to our bodies. Recently there has been a pushback to these cultural expectations of weight-loss and dieting with people recognizing that the weight-loss and diet culture is an industry that profits off of making people feel inadequate. Not only is it an industry, it’s a $58 billon dollar industry Read more

The first thing my partner’s father asked after we told him I had cancer was, “Is Jo going to fight this?” It was a serious, intense question, one that we hadn’t even begun to think about. It was less than a week after the colonoscopy that showed a five centimeter mass at the top of my descending colon near my splenic flexure. It was less than a day after I received the biopsy results that showed that the mass was adenocarcinoma, moderately differentiated. For twenty-four hours, I had been focused on telling everyone that after months of symptoms with no clear cause, the answer was colon cancer. Fighting hadn’t crossed my mind. 

My partner looked at me sideways before he answered his dad, waiting for my nod. I shrugged. “Yeah, she’s going to fight this,” he said into the phone. “Good,” his dad said, and led the conversation to questions about treatment and staging, what resources we had available, who we should talk to, what the timeline was. This was before the chest CT, the consult with surgical oncology, the dizzying flurry of information and instructions. This was still a month away from the six-hour surgery that would leave me with many incisions and arms that still don’t bend quite like they did before. We didn’t know anything about what the “fight” would look like, but we signed up for it all the same.  Read more

Earlier this year, I was at an annual gathering of other local clergy in my denomination. Our speaker for our time together was Dr. Deanna A. Thompson, the Director of the Lutheran Center for Faith, Values, and Community at St. Olaf College. She spoke on a couple of different topics, weaving in her experiences as someone who has been living with incurable cancer since 2008. You can read her story in her book, Hoping for More: Having Cancer, Talking Faith, and Accepting Grace (Cascade, 2012). On our last day together, the topic for Dr. Thompson’s presentation was “Gospel of Irresolution: Illness, Trauma, and Getting to Hope.” It highlighted how illness and trauma can lead us to a place of irresolution, a place where things are not neatly tied up in a bow, no matter how badly we want them to be. 

As we begin a new year, I wonder if this isn’t an idea to lean into.  Read more

a black-ink tattoo of the word "enough" with curlicue decorations around it
a black-ink tattoo of the word "enough" with curlicue decorations around it

The author’s freshly drawn tattoo, by Trevor at Alley Cat Tattoo, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

I’ve spent 39 years on this earth without any tattoos. I’m not anti-tattoo, but I couldn’t think of anything that I would, without any doubt, want forever engraved on my skin. For some reason, as I approached my most recent birthday, I suddenly had a desire to celebrate it with permanent ink. In small Hebrew lettering on my upper arm, close to my  heart, I got my two sons’ names, which both came from Hebrew Scripture and hold great meaning. Less than a month later, I was already planning my second tattoo.

This second tattoo was inspired by the gift of a week at CREDO, a program in some denominations for pastors that looks deeply at overall health and wellbeing in five areas: vocational, spiritual, financial, physical, and emotional. From the start, one word kept coming to the fore: Enough. I journeyed with that word for the week in the company of wonderful colleagues, and knew what my next tattoo had to be.

For those familiar with the Enneagram, I am a very solid One – often called The Perfectionist, or as I prefer, The Reformer. Ones are always striving for improvement. We want to make the world a better place. We want to improve what is in our environment. But the strongest focus of that drive for improvement is internal. I’ve always known that I hold others to high standards, but none nearly as high as the expectations that I have for myself. It’s pretty exhausting. Ones are always our own worst critics.

As a One, the word “Enough” was the word on which I needed to meditate. What would it look like for what I have done to be enough? For me to be enough? When do I know that enough is enough?

In some ways, “enough” and “grace” could be used interchangeably. To be honest, the word “grace” might have made for a more graceful tattoo. Ryan O’Neal, the artist behind “Sleeping at Last,” has created a whole body of music that is enneagram focused.[1] I sometimes just put “One” on repeat, listening to the refrain “grace requires nothing of me.” Grace is enough. But for me, “enough” conveys a little more, too. Read more

I didn’t exactly party hard this New Year’s Eve. Recovering from a cold, I stayed in with my dog, wore pajamas, watched the deleted scenes on the Parks and Recreation DVDs I got for Christmas, and toasted 2018 with a shot of cough syrup. Being under the weather takes the pressure out of New Year’s Eve. It tends to be such a couple-focused holiday—after all, you have to find someone to kiss at midnight, right? Judging by the number of engagements popping up in my facebook feed on January 1, the romance of NYE is not just in the movies.

It’s never quite worked out that way for me, though. For most of my adult life, I’ve spent New Year’s Eve alone or with friends, or occasionally as an awkward third or fifth wheel. Some of my favorites were the years when it was just one or two friends hanging out and consuming pizza rolls and champagne—the “New Year’s Eve of champions,” as we call it. The champagne really classes up the pizza rolls, I’m telling you.

There’s also the New Year’s pressure to make resolutions. “New Year, New You!” the ads proclaim as they roll over from the indulgent feasting and gift-giving of Christmas to the diets, exercise equipment, organizational systems, day planners, and self-help books that we all need to be better people this year than we were last year. The dating apps tell me that this could be the year I find true love, especially if I enroll in their premium plan. Of course, they said that last year, and the year before, and the year before that.

All this is premised on the idea that there is something wrong with who and what I am right now. The not-so-subtle underlying message of all the ads is that if I had changed my body with the right exercise regimen and changed my personality with the self-help books, then I could have found true love. Or the “new me” could have, I suppose. Read more

366190064_8114b4e55d_bJanuary brings new beginnings. There’s calm after the flurry of holiday festivities. New calendars are crisp and white, empty dates full of promise. It’s an opportunity and often a yearning to start anew, to make changes for the better as we embark on the New Year. And so with varying degrees of earnestness, we formulate and commit to New Year’s resolutions.

I resolve to lose 20 pounds. In the coming year I will eat more vegetables. My goal is to learn a new language. I plan to call my parents more often. This is the year I’m going to get out of debt. I will pray more faithfully.

There are whole industries lined up to equip us for these self-improvement endeavors. Messages abound about becoming a better you and promise sure-fire techniques for success. However with less than half of all resolutions fulfilled, I wonder if we might approach things differently. New Year’s resolutions almost always point to the ways we are lacking. Their subtext is “… because you are not good enough, yet.”

What if our starting point was different? As children of God, our starting point is one of inherent value. Martin Luther connects this with what he calls the passive righteousness of faith which is given to us by God through Jesus. This is different than a practice of works righteousness, or trying to earn God’s love through our own actions. Luther strongly believed that life is about God working in and through us, rather than us working to be right with God. Read more

hands with coins and leaves

hands with coins and leavesI’ve never been much good at the whole New Year’s Resolution thing. It seems that for most of my adult life, every January I’ve made a half-hearted pledge to lose a bajillion pounds and clean up my house so it looks like the cover of a Better Homes and Gardens magazine. And every December, I have the same pudgy thighs and a home that could be featured in Clutter and Dog Hair Quarterly.

A year ago, as 2015 began, I decided to try something a little different. I decided to make myself a budget.

I’d never had a lot of interest in budgeting. I didn’t have a particular problem with money—no credit card debt or out-of-control spending. I tend toward miserly frugality more than reckless spending—certain threadbare clothes in my closet can testify to that—so I assumed I didn’t really need a budget. Budgets are for people who overdraw their checking accounts. That wasn’t me. Or budgets are for married couples figuring out how to integrate their finances. That wasn’t me either. As a single person, all my money is mine. A budget would just restrict my freedom to do what I want with it. Or so I thought. Read more


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