Monday, December 31, 2012

on another subject...

A friend asked if I would make her a quilt, and over a period of months--interrupted by life (and sadly, death)--we've been narrowing the scope of the project. She was able to send me a picture incorporating the colors she would like, and I've found fabric that I think will do nicely. Now to choose the pattern so that we can determine yardage and move this project off the drawing board!

To help in that effort I told Linda that I would post images here so that she could see them easily--including pictures in emails wasn't working well. I am grateful to Pinterest for exposing me to so many patterns, and I've made a few editorial decisions related to my suggestions based on what I think I can handle! Without further ado, here are some traditionally styled patterns for Linda to consider. If none of them please, we'll add to the mix!
Pattern #1

Pattern #2

Pattern #3

Pattern #4

Pattern #5

Pattern #6


In a way it's a good thing the quilt project has been delayed.  Since we began our floor remodel (the week of Thanksgiving) my sewing machine has been unreachable, surrounded by stacks of books. The floor is also impassable with boxes of just about everything imaginable, not to mention that every surface in the house serves as a staging area for one thing or another. Now that we are on the down slope of the floor effort my task is to reclaim space so that normal is a word that "might" be applied to our living quarters. 

Speaking of which, I'm off to tidy up my office! 

And since this is December 31, let me take this opportunity to say "Buh-bye 2012!"

Can't wait to usher in a new beginning for so many of us.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

from every angle

If you're reading this, thank you. Thank you for coming here to visit, or if we've gotten to know each other through this page, for caring enough to check in. Your presence here matters, even though I don't really know who comes unless they leave a comment or make a reference to what's here some other way (like my Mom, who tells me via email or phone call).

Thank you for hanging in here with me. I know it's not fun to be part of this long haul. I try to use these pages as a way to share an insight, an update, or pose a query (for myself--it helps to do so publicly). I'm sorry that it gets heavy from time to time, and your companionship during those days is especially valued.As Oprah says, a friend will ride with you in the limo, but a real friend will stay with you when the limo breaks down.

As you are aware, I'm a big fan of Tom Ryan and Following Atticus, the story of an extraordinary relationship between a man and a dog. I follow Tom on facebook and his blog because he reiterates positive perspectives and attitudes, and I find his commitment to the journey encouraging. I believe in the message he shares and the means by which one can accomplish what I would deem transformation. On the FA page this morning was a reference to Joseph Campbell's hero. “It’s where a person comes to a point in life where they are tested as never before and are forced to become more than they have ever been. It is part of every great adventure and the journey is never easy. That’s what makes it transcendent." 

For so many years I have felt like I've not been in the right place, that I wasn't fitting where I was. I have dissected myself, taken advantage of vocational inventories, personality assessments (no guffawing, please), prayer, discernment, evaluation, come to terms with failures (at least in my head) and celebrated victories. I have looked from every angle I can think of to raise my own awareness and discover what may yet be new to assist in the effort to find the signposts that will lead me forward. Pieces of me are everywhere, littering my internal landscape. It's not an easy road, but I believe in the process underway.

It occurred to me this morning that I have been deconstructing. Some months ago I had the epiphany that I had the knowledge and information available to me to make the essential discovery that would move me forward and in a clear(er) direction. I had lost sight of that, and was reminded of it again last night. I know this is my work to do, but I also know that there are people available to me to assist in this effort, and it's time to call on them. 

Help comes in many forms. Your prayers, holding me in the light, your encouragement, sending me notices of job possibilities--all of that is help that I cherish and for which I am exceedingly grateful. One reason I share so much of this part of my inner world here is because I lack a local community to whom I can turn. Isolation is a difficult part of this walk, which is one reason I am especially glad for your presence.  

I'm not a fan of new year resolutions, but it is not a bad thing that some inner commitment to find helpmates on this journey is coming about as this year concludes. Every day offers a new beginning and a new opportunity. One day the drips of this work will reach the top of the cup and overflow into new life. When that day comes, expect a big ol' party.

Friday, December 28, 2012

friday five: 2012 recap, sort of

At RevGals Deb writes:

As we take a breather from the busy weekend of Sunday/Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, it's time to reflect on the past year. It's hard to move out of this holiday season with its delights and celebrations. Here at our home, we've barely finished the eggnog. The tree is still up and our cats delight in knocking off the lower (unbreakable) ornaments. As we are rounding the final turn on the year 2012, I hope you'll play along with these questions. :)


This has not been a banner year for me, so I'm grateful for the opportunity to look for the good that it wrought!
RECYCLE:

1. What is some "old news" this year that you'd like to repeat for 2013?
I would love to spend time with friends I met through blogging, and who I finally met in real life in July. I want me some more of that!

2. What "new thing" have you started that you want to keep going in 2013?

 Writing timely thank you notes
RE-GIFT:

3. What event, experience or gift would you just as soon "Return to Sender"? Maybe it was a disastrous sermon, a congregational kerfuffle, a vacation nightmare, or your own mis-step. It can be funny or sad. 

In a moment of pique I included something in a blog post that proved to be a huge mistake, and has caused lasting damage. That was in August. The impact lingers. 

REFLECT:

4. Share the brightest bit of joy that was a part of your year. 
My aunt's 85th birthday celebration, which reunited family members from across the country and the generations. I hadn't seen some of my cousins in more than 20 years. It was a great time.

5. Share a picture that says far more than words. (You can use it to illustrate one of the above.) 

My favorite picture from the year. You can't hear my grandson giggle, but there is so much joy in this picture, taken at my favorite place in the world (our family farm), at my favorite time of day.
 
BONUS:

Share a recipe! Soup, stew, main dish, side dish or a healthy dessert - any and all are welcome!
One of our favorite healthy recipes is fish tacos (a Pampered Chef recipe). I don't bother with the tortilla half of the time, which makes this even healthier!

Fish Tacos
serves 4 (two tacos each)

Slaw:
1/4 cup sliced green onions with tops
2 T snipped fresh cilantro
1 T fresh lime juice
1 T olive or canola oil
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 t sugar (I use honey)
1/2 t Cajun seasoning
2 cups broccoli slaw mix

Fish:
1 pound tilapia fish fillets
1 T cajun seasoning
1 avocado, seeded, peeled and sliced
8 (6-inch) corn tortillas, warmed (I use flour tortillas, personal preference)
3 medium radishes

Combine first seven slaw ingredients in a bowl. Whisk until blended. Add broccoli mizture and toss to coat. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Heat grill pan over medium heat 5 minutes. Season fish with Cajun seasoning. Brush oil on pan. Place fillets in pan and cook over medium heat 10-12 minutes or until fish flakes easily with fork, turning carefully once.  flake fish into bite-size pieces.

Grate or finely chop radishes. Microwave tortillas on high 1 minute. Top evenly with slaw mixture and fish. Add radish pieces and avocado slices. Top with additional cilantro, if desired.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

risky business

More years ago than I can recall, a friend recommended Anne Lamott's book, Bird by Bird, to me. The title is misleading: one might think that it's about birds, but it is, in fact, about writing. Birds serve more as object lessons than subject matter, but This colorful way of titling her book notwithstanding, Anne Lamott became known to me. She has gone on to write other, more widely circulated books, and has become something of a celebrity among women of faith who enjoy raw, honest writing with humor, and a touch of self-deprecation. She's an absolute gem. I considered it one of my finest hours when a blogging/facebook/cyber-friend remarked that something I wrote sounded like Anne Lamott. High Praise!

Thanks to my mother's generosity at Christmas I am now the proud owner of Anne's most recent publication on prayer, Help, Thanks, Wow. As is typical for me when reading such a book, my thoughts begin to go off on their own thread of reflection, and just such a departure from the page led me here to this blog post. Anne writes: "Prayer is taking a chance that against all odds and past history,  we are loved and chosen, and do not have to get it together before we show up. The opposite may be true: We may not be able to get it together until after we show up in such miserable shape." (Prelude, page 5-6)

This absolutely struck a chord with me. The first part of the above quote speaks to the difficult line that clergy walk at all times, and that female clergy, in particular, struggle with daily. Or at least I think so. Don't get me wrong, we can be a confident lot with very good cause, and there are any number of my brothers and sisters of the cloth whose lives radiate confidence because they are grounded, solid, authentic people whose inner strength overwhelms the wobbles far more often than not. There is an expectation that assaults us regularly, however, and that is the notion that we have our act together before we "show up," as Anne puts it. Trying to meet that expectation can feel, at times, like walking barefoot on glass, but we risk getting bloody because that's what servants of God do. (No disrespect intended toward servants who don't wear collars--I'm simply speaking here as one who does).

I put aside the collar to move on to the latter sentence. I've felt pretty ragged the last several months. Being released from a job that I did well and for which I was qualified to continue doing well has taken a toll. The road I pursued from there ran out, and no clear path forward has emerged. I have listened to my heart, listened for the will and voice of God, and made every effort to apply the lessons of the past to making choices for the future, and firm ground has not emerged. Others disappointments and hurts compound the stress. This is a hard, debilitating and demoralizing place to be, and it takes more energy to "show up" than most people realize. But I am trying. I am trying to show up, to be engaged, to let go of my own expectations to have it together so that I can at least be present in my raggedness with the hope, and prayer, of finding a way toward wholeness. 

I have felt low, to be sure, but today I have finally acknowledged to myself that I am broken. This is not a "woe is me" acknowledgement, but a "stopping to take stock" moment. Years ago when I shattered my heel, my father comforted me during a period of extended pain by explaining to me that what I was experiencing was healing pain. My body was doing its job of repairing what had been broken, and in so doing the effort resulted in pain. This made sense to my intuitive self, and that wisdom has come in handy from time to time since that episode.  It is time to be reminded of it again.  Sometimes I am too good at reviewing and assessing what contributes to my pain, and once I have a grasp of the parts and can make as much sense of it as possible, I strive to move forward and past what has been hurtful and damaging. I do a disservice to myself at such times when the damage goes deep. Feeling the pain and grieving what is lost and broken can appear, and sometimes feel, self-indulgent. It is a place I don't like to stay, because I'm not fond of wallowing. But a period of experiencing the pain of healing is essential to the healing itself. I fear that of late--because there is so much pressure to move forward, find a job,  pay the bills, repair what is broken, be confident--the work of healing is a job itself. 

So before I pick up where I left off in Help, Thanks, Wow, I need to sweep the glass metaphorically from my path and not berate myself for spending the day in my pajamas. I can curl up with the dog, a cup of tea, the box of chocolates that was her gift to me for Christmas, a box of kleenex, and just read. And while I'm at it I'll cry, and grieve, and hurt, and let the pain of healing go to work on me.  This is me, showing up. Collar optional.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

let us pray

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (Psalm 90:1-2)

Once again, we are reminded about the meaning of this bleak midwinter we call Advent. For God did not come to create a greeting card industry, nor so we could string lights on houses and trees. God did not become one of us so we might have office parties and give people things they don't really need. God was not born so songs could be written and sermons preached.

God came for such mornings as this, after the long night of anguished tossing and turning, with visions of horror dancing in our heads. God came to walk with us as we wander the streets of our hearts asking, 'how? why? when?'

God came to huddle with terrified children in closets where school supplies are stored, and to give teachers the strength not to show their worst fears. God came to cradle the wounded and the dying, so they would know they were not abandoned in that loneliest of moments.

God came to give the first responders the courage to walk into the unspeakable, willing to put themselves between danger and little children. God came to gather the parents and grandparents up into the divine lap of comfort and hope, even as their arms would no longer be able to embrace their child. God came to have that most compassionate heart broken as many times as ours are, to weep with us even when we have run out of tears, to stand next to us with the same look of horror and disbelief.

God came for mornings such as this, with the same haggard face, with the same questions, with the same anger, with the same sense of loss and hopelessness, but with deep wells of grace from which we can drink, with compassion which will never end, with comforting arms which will not grow weary, with hope which stretches from everlasting to everlasting.

God came, and is still with us.

© 2012 Thom M. Shuman, Occasional Sightings of the Gospel

Saturday, December 15, 2012

in the shadow of friday

This morning as I read various reports and reactions about what happened in Newtown my thoughts slide past the grief and sadness. For better or worse my life is a bit saturated with those emotions and I don't have much room for more right now. The sign on the door of my heart directs me to my head, so that is where I go.That explains the irritation that arises when I see the graphic-gone-viral that misspells Newtown, omitting the second w.

For most people Newtown is a now-familiar dot on the map, but to me it is a place I  know. I've spent time in Newtown. My best friend in divinity school lived there with her family, and I was a regular guest in their home. I ate at restaurants in town, visited the library, the local video store and other businesses. Getting ready to graduate I interviewed at the Episcopal Church whose stone spire is visible from the road after you get off the highway and head up the hill to an intersection anchored by a flagpole boasting the American flag. The person through whom my spiritual journey was forever altered, the trajectory of which led me to the Episcopal Church and all that followed was once rector of that church. Newtown is not a dot on the map to me, it is part of my story.

I listened to an interview with one of the teachers from Sandy Hook Elementary about how she protected the children in her care. Locking the door. Keeping them quiet. Insisting when the police arrived that they prove who they were by pushing their badges under the door and demanding that if they were "the good guys" then they would access to the keys to unlock the door. Hearing the details of her experience gave me fresh ears when the usual "the tragedy could have been minimized if the teachers were allowed to carry guns" argument came out of the brush. I don't think so. In a case like this one can protect or one can defend, but not both. You cannot soothe the fears of children and draw them into a huddle when you're busy pulling your piece out of your coat pocket to confront a maniac armed with multiple weapons and wearing protective gear. Chances are better than good that an armed response by a teacher or staff member might distract an assailant for a moment, but would likely end up a casualty. Worse, that posture would leave children unsupervised, and very much to their own devices. One young student noted, "I know karate, I can go..." You can imagine how that would turn out.


To all those people who are posting that this action is somehow connected to constitutional restrictions on prayer in school, that God isn't there because God isn't allowed to be there, stop it.  Such a suggestion diminishes God at every level.

Yet again the call has gone forth to do something to end this kind of violence through gun control. Many have pointed to statistics about gun-related violence and death. I'm in your corner. I'm not a fan of guns. I have, however, been listening over the years since marrying a man who grew up hunting, spent a career in the military, and as an avocation is a student of human behavior (at least in certain quarters). Our constitution ties our hands considerably when it comes to matters of gun control. It seems to me that the solution lies less in controlling weaponry and more in nurturing human beings. We are a violent society because we encourage and stoke the primal part of our being that seeks power and control. Yes, we are "free" to do so, but that freedom runs roughshod over any attempt to encourage the responsibility that is the flip-side of that privilege. Being bullied is a normative experience for many because the ethos of our culture, especially for boys, cheers the "top dog" who uses any means necessary to reach that pinnacle. Intimidation and physical prowess find reward where the values of compromise and consensus are left in the dust. When our  nation's leaders look to point fingers rather than take responsibility how can we expect our citizens to act differently? When we demonstrate a value for decency and respect, perhaps that behavior will begin to emerge as prevalent.

In his facebook post this morning Tom Ryan (of Following Atticus) shared a reflection to yesterday's events, and offered a quote from Victor Frankl's book Man's Search for Meaning. The quote reads, “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” I second that. If we are not already doing so it is time to make some different choices. Honor one another. Learn from differences. Value diversity. Love everyone. Bless the world with so much love that we almost burst from the light. Put prayer into action. Do one thing to add beauty to the world today as a way to honor the lives that were lost, not just in Newtown but in every corner of our broken world. We have to do this together. We must.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

making the list

I woke up this morning thinking about today's Christmas lunch for our diocesan women clergy. Organized by two of my colleagues, it is an event I have been anticipating with some gladness, eager to be with my sisters of the cloth who I rarely see any more. The more I imagined that time together, however, the more tender I felt. Chances are that our canon to the ordinary will be there, and her presence would pretty much stifle any freedom to share honestly what life has been like for me as a priest in the eighteen months since leaving my last parish. The tears pricked and the sobs began to emerge, and in a few minutes I was out of bed and making my way to the coffee pot. Far removed from the bedroom, I let the tears flow without ceasing and the sobs shook my body as I huddled against the kitchen counter in the cold.

It's all so complicated. Monday was the anniversary of my ordination to the deaconate 18 years ago. Last night a friend was sharing on facebook the joy of her ordination to the same. It was bittersweet to read her posts and see the pictures. I remember the joy, the hope and the promise. Now I am still trying to come to terms with the call whose embers continue to burn within me and the shattered reality of what life can be like in the Church. Or out of the Church, as the case is for me these days. 

It is a threadbare life, spiritually. Holiness still permeates my soul, which longs like a deer for refreshment from the stream. I am grateful for the ability to imagine the glow of God's light within, and relieved that I experience a sense of divine companionship as a result. This is an exceedingly lonely time, isolated by geography from the people who matter most to me, and lacking connection with a community that "gets" the pothole-filled road I travel. I am weary of cheery platitudes that trivialize my pain and disregard my experience, and efforts to steer me onto a broad and level path carved out by popular devotion. I wonder if, when I will find my place again among the mediators of grace and sacrament, a place that provides a plumb line of purpose and fulfillment. 

Into this hollow place of longing a ray of light fell this morning. A "list" of Christian women bloggers has been compiled and shared, and its existence is being made known across the internet. A friend and colleague who I have come to know and value through the blog world posted a link to the list, and there, tucked into the r's was my very own blog title. It is a glimmer of light, one among 1001, but it is there. Recognized. Appreciated. Not invisible. My favorite line from Antoine de St. Exupery's The Little Prince comes to mind. "If you love a flower that lives on a star, when you look at the sky at night all the stars are abloom with flowers." I don't equate appearing on a list with being loved, but the recognition does serve to refresh my bloom, and I am humbled to be in the company of some amazing women who share and reflect upon what it means to be a Christian woman. To be included is a small thing of huge significance. I may feel alone, but I am in the good company of other seekers who yearn, hope, love, give, weep and pray as part of the larger community of the faithful. Together we bloom, and together our light shines across the universe. I am held up by that light even as I contribute to it in my own way, on my own journey. 

Today I am grateful for so much light from sources known and unknown. I will put one foot in front of the other, the tears that flow will water the flower that lives on the star, and I will strive through it all to bloom.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012


My friend The Bug has given me a reader appreciation award! And since I appreciate being appreciated I’m answering the questions & passing it on. Thanks Buggles!!
Where do you do most of your writing/blogging?

I write at my desk, in front of a computer. Sometimes I actually journal in long hand in a notebook or journal. It's really been a while since I did that, though.
What books were your childhood favorites? 
I loved The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Pippy Longstocking, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Encyclopaedia Brown, and just about anything else I could get my hands on. I read a lot when I was a young'un. 
Who is your favorite fictional character? 
Wow, that question caught me off guard. In terms of books I reached into the Mitford series to name my most beloved dog, Dooley. He was named for a impish kid named Dooley Barlow. How impish? Well, how can you not love a kid who emerges from the parish bathroom and announces, "There's corn in my poop!" Kind of endeared me to him forever.  The entire ensemble cast of The West Wing is right up there, too.
What is your favorite time of day and why? 
I have two favorites. One is first thing in the morning when I get up and get my coffee and surf the net (as in facebook, Pinterest, news and a daily dose of sudoku). The other is a more "physical" time of day, which is late afternoon when the shadows are long and the sun kisses everything with a lovely golden yellow. Love. That. Time. of. Day.
Have you ever Googled yourself and been surprised at what you’ve found? 
Yes, and no.
Who would play you in a movie of your life?
That would be Allison Janney, who became known to me when she played the indefatigable Director of Communications for Jed Bartlett on The West Wing. She's tall, like me, and I used to be thin. You see the resemblance, don't you?
Wanna play? There aren't many people who follow this blog any more, so I am going to let you self-select, if you don't mind. I know I always find it helpful to have prompts offered to me. Have at it, friends!

Saturday, December 01, 2012

first light

image by Werner Schnell, from Flickr

I've always wondered exactly when it was that Advent started. Calendars and such begin on the first of the month because, I suppose, the month starts with 1, not 2 or 3. But liturgically, I realize, the last Sunday after Pentecost runs its course through the whole of the week, including the Saturday that follows it. So Advent does, personal observances notwithstanding, begin on Sunday. This was confirmed for me this morning when I went to Pinterest with great anticipation of following Advent there on a particular board only to learn that I would have to wait until tomorrow. 

I have decided, however, to begin my own Advent observance today on the first of the month. 

Historically, personally, Advent is a season with deep, nurturing roots in my childhood. They are warm and fuzzy, and bask in the glow of Advent Candle light--among other things. In adulthood I draw on the nostalgia of Advent to launch me into a season that theologically and spiritually doesn't always line up for me. I ride its wave, so to speak, but rely fully on where the wave takes me, rather than using any sort of motivation to help me make the most of that ride.

It's different this year. There's been a lot of spiritual angst and honing, and for the first time I am living with an acknowledged hardness in my heart. It's not my whole heart, just a piece of it. But the fact that any hardness exists is unacceptable. So I am catching the wave at the onset, digging deep into the apocalyptic foundations of darkness to appreciate as fully as possible the gift that is on its way to us. 

I am struck, as well, that as that uncomfortable tide carries us forward a parallel journey is underway for an oddly matched couple expecting an untimely birth. Theirs is a journey over dusty roads and inhospitable strangers, but they go faithfully. They do their part as citizens following clear instructions on the one hand, while on the other they have entrusted themselves fully to a mystery that will shatter all mysteries. 

My earthly road is long and dusty, too. The spiritual one? Full of trepidation. Not because I worry about the outcome, but because of what life is like waiting on the outcome. How appropriate for Advent. 

Today I attend that wait, releasing the care of it to God while holding hands with Mary, and doing whatever I can to shake loose that bit of hardness so that I may soar with the angels that come to announce good tidings. 

Blessings, dear ones.
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