Starting Over Again

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My sermon ended yesterday with the bold proclamation that God is just beginning to do a new thing. The words have been ratting around in my head since I first typed them. Pushing and prodding and nudging toward this amazing possibility that no one really understands.

I have to be honest. The whole idea makes me a bit tired. Not just because the church is changing and the future is unknown within the institution but because it’s the reality of my life. God has been doing a new thing this year. God gave me this amazing gift of love. God encouraged me to follow that love and move across country which meant leaving the church I was serving. It meant leaving the life I was trying to create and start over again.

Let me be clear: starting over sucks. It’s exhausting to try to reimagine what life could be when you have gotten so comfortable with the way life is. I’ve heard these complaints from church members so many times and it’s not that I didn’t understand. I did. I do. And I’ve tried so hard to take my own advice — and that of every book on change I’ve ever read — and try lots of things. I’ve tried to throw caution to the wind and imagine crazy things. In doing so, I have had a bunch of failures. Last year, I started a ministry that started to gain some traction and then it tanked. Maybe I tanked. I’m still not sure but all of the sudden it was so clear that this wasn’t for me. I still don’t think it was a bad idea. I just wasn’t the one to make it happen.

Now, as this new year dawns, I’m getting ready to start over again. God is really, truly just beginning to do a new thing. This year, I will get married. (Holy moly. I am getting married.)  It is going to be an epic multi-day event with so much love and so much wine and so many beautiful people. And then, we move again. I get to start over again.

I’m trying to summon all the enthusiasm I can muster. I’m trying to live on the edge of hope and wonder even though — if I’m honest — the prospect makes me tired. Even so, I haven’t stopped googling. I haven’t stopped daydreaming about what will come next in the new year as I try so very hard to chart points on a map into the unknown.

Map Point #1: It all begins with a wedding. I am over-planning the crap out of this event because it’s what I do best. When I say it’s going to be epic, I am not kidding.

Map Point #2: Shortly thereafter, I will return to the place we call home now. I will finish my charge as an interim pastor at this sweet little church. I will bless them in their future.

Map Point #3: And then, I will join my beloved in this new place with lots of BBQ. That’s when the adventure really begins and anything could happen. But, rather than get scared and overwhelmed, the first part is to settle into this new place.

Map Point #4: At the same time I will be settling into this new place, I’ll be sending off applications to continue my education. Gosh. It’s scary to type this and name this thing I’ve been thinking about aloud. Now you’ll know if I don’t get in. Ack! But, here’s the honest truth: I’m seeking to begin a holy adventure into spiritual direction. It’s a call that’s been getting louder and louder so that I feel I can no longer say no. Fingers crossed, I’ll begin this educational wonder in January 2017 — but that means I gotta complete an application or two.

Map Point #5: Of course, I can’t just imagine one education opportunity in the new year so I’m trying to figure out when I might take Part Two of interim ministry training. I am loving the challenging work I get to do right now. I want to be better at it. I want to know all the things which means more education.

Map Point #6: Last year, as I started over, I get better and better about answering the call to write. I even got published. There’s a book I started writing last year — and one that I hope to finish this year. It’s a book about what I know best. It’s a book about grief encompassing those things that I’ve learned from the wonderful people in the churches I’ve served and the lessons I’ve struggled to realize over so many years of mourning my mother. I haven’t a clue if it will be published but it’s a point on the map this year.

God is just beginning to do a new thing. It’s just starting in the dawning of the new year. No matter how I might plan, there are things that I can’t pinpoint on any map. God will do what God does and surprise me with wonders. Or so I pray not only for myself but for you too.

What new things is God just beginning in your life right now?

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A Few Good Things

NEW_2519Just two weeks ago, I ventured to Cape Cod to officiate the wedding of one of my college friends. And you know what? Weddings are fun. I say this as someone who is super busy planning her own wedding and has a bit of grief about it. So, it’s a little bit of a reminder. Weddings are fun. No, really Elsa, weddings are fun. But, I wasn’t the bride this time.

I was the officiant. I was the one who got to say all of the things which I used to hate. In the beginning of my ministry, I would have much preferred a funeral. I still love funerals. Funerals are at the heart of my call story. They allow me to exorcise all of my demons. They allow a space for tremendous healing in the midst of the heavy load of grief. But, I’m really starting to love weddings. A few months ago, I got to officiate my little cousin’s wedding. (The picture you see here is actually from that wedding.) And then there was this one of my dear friend. And it’s just so good. I love it. So, I guess you could say that I’m available for weddings. Go ahead and contact me.

But, really, I don’t want weddings to be my main gig. So maybe don’t contact me. Lately, I’ve been devoting a lot of my time to writing. On September 1, the United Church of Christ launched a new blog called New Sacred. It’s only been a couple of weeks — but whew! The writing is awesome and I am one of the writers. My first post just appeared today in honor of the Pope’s visit. Oh, have you heard that the Pope in in town? I wrote about what went down in my neighboring city of Philadelphia. You can find it here. While you’re there, be sure to check out all of the other amazing posts. Hats off to Marchae Grair on this awesome project. 

As much as I am writing, I am reading. I’m reading too many books at once actually. It’s a small problem as I can’t seem to finish a single one of these books. Nevertheless, there are some really important books I’m reading right now with a group of people in something dubbed White Young Clergy Reading Racism. It started as a blog series that flopped and became a Facebook group. If you’re interested in joining our discussion, join the Facebook group here. The conversation will be better with you — and it’s the perfect time as we are just now wrapping up our conversation on But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations About Race. It’s time to choose another book — and we’d love your ideas.

Alternabook studytively, if you are really, really, really sad that you missed the first conversation of But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations About Race, head on over to my Ideas + Resources page where you can download your very own copy of this book study. Even if you’re not that sad. Maybe just because you want to confront your own racism. That’s an even better reason.

So, that’s it. That’s a few good things from me. How about you?

My Grief Has A New Name

wedding-322034_1280My grief has a new name and its name is wedding planning.

Way back when in July, I said yes before the fireworks. We had talked about it for so long — or what felt like so, so, so long — that I’d already started to daydream about our wedding. I’d already imagined the guests, the location and the colors. It was fun and exciting, if not a little bit silly.

Now, just a few months later, we have a venue, a caterer, a photographer and a cakemaker. It is real.

It is so real that I keep bumping into my old ball and chain, my grief. It’s how I know this is really happening. It’s not just that friends and family are booking hotel rooms and airline tickets. It’s that I can’t quite shake the overwhelming awareness that my mother won’t be there. Nor will my grandparents given to me by blood. They’ve all died. There isn’t one left before my family tree started new branches. I miss my grandparents and I wish they could be there. I’m pondering taking the dress that my grandmother wore to my father’s second wedding and using it to make bowties for the guys or maybe just wrap around the bouquets. It’s hot pink. I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around that color even though I love the idea of my grandmother being present on that day. But, it’s not so hard to imagine this day without my grandparents. It’s much harder to imagine this day without my mother.

She wasn’t there when I graduated high school. She didn’t get to see me earn my master’s degree or preach from the pulpit for the very first time. I’ve missed her each and every time. I’ve shed a tear for each family member that whispered in my ear, “your mother would be so proud of you.” But, I never thought that I would miss her as much as when it came time to plan my wedding.

It’s been twenty-eight years since my mother died, but my brain can’t quite process that she won’t go with me to look at dresses or plan brunches or whatever the hell brides do with their mothers. I feel pulled back into the cycles of grief where I’m not quite at anger but surely claiming some of my heart in denial. I can’t believe my mother isn’t here. Hello denial.

It hit me last night while I was running. Because I’m aware of this void and I know that I have do something to create a space for my mother on my wedding day. There are a lot of cheesy ways to do this that I am loathe to include on my wedding day. Running last night, I got to thinking about the details of making this thing I am imagining come to life. There are some things that I need to gather and prepare. I was making that list in my head as I ran until my mind flashed to the actual moment of what it would look like on my wedding day. I imagined the photographers clicking away as this happened until I realized I was sobbing. Fresh, hot tears streaked down my cheeks.

I wish that I could “get over it” as I’ve been advised so many times, but I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know how to detach from this loss because in removing my heart from that pain, it means losing my mom. I don’t want to lose her. I don’t want to give up on loving her which means that my grief has so many different names. It appears each and every time something big and wonderful happens, and the feeling never, ever goes away: I just want to tell my mom about it.