On laundry and pottery and small towns

IMG_7008First let me say, I do not know how two people can generate the massive amount of laundry that needed to be done. I don’t. And even though we rarely buy clothes and clean out our closets whenever we move, we have a lot of clothes. Or at least it felt like it this morning.

So because we had these mountains of dirty clothes, I decided to take them to the local laundromat in the next town over, rather than try to do 6+ loads in the three washers in our apartment complex. So off I went, quarters in hand, with laundry detergent and bleach and dryer sheets, laundry mountains in tow.

After parking, I noticed that the dry cleaner/wash ‘n’ fold (for those of you non-New Yorkers, these are dry cleaners that also wash and fold your laundry) also had a sign for self-laundry. So I opted for this rather than the coin-op laundry a couple of doors down that just felt depressing and whose washers had seen better days.

There is something healthy and humbling about doing your laundry in public — airing your dirty laundry in a very real sense. The women who work at the laundry — doing the wash and fold loads for those who dropped them off — were friendly and delightful. Within minutes, I was conversing as an old friend, chatting with them about everything and nothing all at the same time.

Just down the street is the pottery studio where I took my first pottery class last Saturday. I stopped by the studio after the laundry mountains had been conquered, with the few minutes left on my meter. My intent was two-fold; to drop off a check for the classes I was taking, and to take a look at the pieces I made last Saturday.

I love the feel of this small river town and Marian’s smile as I walk through the door of the pottery studio that has been there for generations. And there’s nothing better than a sunny spring day, the smell of fresh laundry and taking a look at my first pinch pot creation.

God Says Yes to Me

It’s been a while since I have blogged. It has been a meantime for me – a time of letting the field lie fallow for a season, a time of in-betweens. Somewhere in the muddied middle of the past, somewhere in between the now and the not yet. It has been a season of profound joy and some of the deepest sadness and loss I have ever known. But it has been a journey. We are all on a journey.

Over the past few days I have had the opportunity to think about conflict as a spiritual practice. That may seem like an oxymoron to some or anathema to others, but I am learning that it can be both and neither. Where two or three are gathered, Jesus said, my spirit will be in the midst of them; not only in their joys but in their conflicts.

Seeing conflict as spiritual practice, giving thanks for all the messiness that conflict brings – these can lead us out of the valley of despair into a land of hope. A land that flows with the creativity and possibility and potentialities of all that can be. A place of the ultimate yes, where God says yes to me.

Yes, I have called you to coach and to write and to provide spiritual direction to those who are seeking to know Me more deeply. Yes, you are the good and whole and grace-filled woman I created you to be. Yes, I will lead you on your journey with others along the way to support you. Yes, I will be with you always.

A dear colleague and friend, Deidre Combs taught me this eternal truth that comes out of the wisdom of all the major religious traditions. It says, “When conflict comes, be grateful.” I’ve had a tough time believing the truth of this. But conflict provides disruption to our otherwise peaceful lives. If we are willing to live through it and let it have it’s way with us, we can move from disruption through the messiness of chaos and hopelessness to a place of creativity and potential to a new cosmic “Yes!” from our creator.

What do you need God to affirm in you? What is God saying YES to in your life?

I share this poem because it says more eloquently than I can my experience of God’s cosmic YES.

God Says Yes To Me by Kaylin Haught

 I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic

and she said yes

I asked her if it was okay to be short

and she said it sure is

I asked her if I could wear nail polish

or not wear nail polish

and she said honey

she calls me that sometimes

she said you can do just exactly

what you want to

Thanks God I said

And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph

my letters

Sweetcakes God said

who knows where she picked that up

what I’m telling you is

Yes Yes Yes

“God Says Yes To Me” by Kaylin Haught, from The Palm of Your Hand. © Tilbury House Publishers, 1995.

Day 188: In the company of wise women

Today, I am going to be in the company of wise women. As I grow older, it is becoming more and more important that I make time for such activities.

About a year ago, a friend and I talked about our experiences as women clergy — both good and bad — but mostly about how isolating it can be. We work in solo pastorates, or in campus ministries, or in entrepreneurial ministries — and we rarely have colleagues. If we do have colleagues, they are rarely other women in ministry. We wanted to change that. We wanted to create a space to be together, to share, to love one another, to uphold each other, to be companions for each other on our respective journeys. We started by gathering monthly virtually on ‘GoToMeeting’, and are for the first time gathering together in person. I can’t wait to be in the company of wise women.photo

There is something very special about women’s wisdom that is often forged out of our experience of community. Women, I believe, are more communal creatures than men — we have a much more profound sense of ‘ubuntu’ (the Swahili word which means, “I am, because we are.’) Women have a sense of needing to be in the company of other women with whom we can share our joys and our struggles. We need to know that we are not alone, that the struggles we share are not new, that this too shall pass. When we come together in this way to share our hopes, our fears, our dreams and our struggles, something beautiful happens. We forge community. We are community.

If you need a community like this one, find one — or start the conversation. We need each other, and we need to remember that we are not in this life alone. We need to experience ‘ubuntu’ in the here and now. We need to be in the company of wise women.

 

Day 138: Moving. It’s what we do.

“I give you this to take with you:
Nothing remains as it was. If you know this, you can
begin again, with pure joy in the uprooting.” 
― Judith MintyLetters to My Daughters

There is no other way I can say it. Moving sucks. I know this in my bones. This will be move #18 in my nearly 31 years of adult life. That is counting going to college as one move (not counting summer jobs in different parts of the country) and only counting “living” somewhere if I actually moved my all my stuff.

My husband and I move for a living. He is an intentional interim pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and very good at it; my work as a writer and spiritual life and leadership coach is completely portable, so I move with him. The good news is that we can move anywhere. The bad news is that we do. Thankfully, we are best friends.

We move into a community and dig right in. There is no time to lose. We visit the sites that most people who live there never go to — because they always can. We become a part of the community. We make friends. We build relationships. We are completely unpacked within days of arrival. (Can you imagine if we didn’t? We’d always be living out of boxes.) We live in the now — not thinking about where we will be 5, 10 or even often 1 or 2 years from now because we can’t think that far ahead. When we say that “God only knows” where we will be 5 years from now, we mean it.

We have entered the transition phase of this interim position. The church will likely soon be ready to call its next installed pastor (and no, I don’t know anything for sure) and we will be looking to move to a new location. I am particularly savoring the flowering of the lovely dogwood in front of our home, as we will likely not be here to see it bloom next year.

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I often say to people that, “This is what we do.” It is. Gavin has been doing it for 16 years, and I have been on this journey with him for the past seven. Now that this interim is nearing its conclusion, I too will have to move on, say good-bye, pack our things in a moving truck and go to the next place.

It’s hard to say goodbye. You meet people, and if you are like me, you kind of fall in love with them, and then you leave and it feels a little like ending a summer romance. Even though you knew wouldn’t last beyond Labor Day, it still hurts when it’s over. It’s hard to say good-bye. But you do it. Or, I should say, we do. It’s what we do.

This morning in church I cried. This is nothing new for me — I’m a crier. And I do it often. Real tears. I’m easily moved to tears. (But you know, I come from a long line of criers, and I’m pretty sure it’s genetic. I can cry crocodile tears and not make a sound.) I thought about moving and these amazing kids that were confirmed today and leaving these people who I love and this house that I love and this tree that I love, and it’s all hard. All of it.

But it will be ok because this is what we do. And more than that, this is what we are called by God to do. That may not make much sense to you, but all I can say is that in the end, it will all be ok. Or maybe even better than ok. We’ll probably fall in love all over again.

Because this is what we do.

 

 

Day 137: Don’t play small.


“You understand Teacher, don’t you, that when you have a mother who’s an angel and a father who is a cannibal king, and when you have sailed on the ocean all your whole life, then you don’t know just how to behave in school with all the apples and ibexes.” 

― Astrid LindgrenPippi Longstocking

For decades as women, we have been taught that it’s important to behave well. Be a good girl. Play nicely with others. Don’t dominate the conversation. Be liked. Don’t be too strong, too knowledgeable, too smart or too well-spoken, or you will intimidate the boys.

I’m done with all that. I’m going to be exactly who God has created me to be, and I’m not going to apologize for it. I’m not going to shrink so the man that I work for can shine. I’m not going to keep my mouth shut if I have something important to say.

It doesn’t do the world a bit of good for me to be silent about the things that matter. It’s of no value to stop shining so that others can. There are a million stars in the sky and without all that shining, there wouldn’t be a universe.

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The institutional church has done much damage to its women clergy because they are uncomfortable with women shining too brightly. They are fine with the dim bulb. But the women I know are 100, or 1000 watts. They can outshine, out-pastor, and out-preach most of the men that I know. And I love male pastors — I’m married to one.

But he doesn’t expect me to be anything other than what God created me to be. In fact, he has told his congregation that I am the better preacher in the family. And after they heard me preach, they concurred.

I have had my “position eliminated” by two 60-something men who were afraid of the wattage that I gave off. This has also happened to my friends who are brilliant and young and smart and gifted. I’m over it. So now I’m on a mission to help other women shine in every way that they can — as pastors/ministers, in their roles as wives and mothers, and in every other roles that they serve. As Marianne Williamson has so beautifully put it,

We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

Shine on, sisters. Expect to see that light in others. Our playing small doesn’t serve the world.

Day 122: There is a leaf to cure it.

In Perpetual Spring

BY AMY GERSTLER

Gardens are also good places
to sulk. You pass beds of
spiky voodoo lilies
and trip over the roots
of a sweet gum tree,
in search of medieval
plants whose leaves,
when they drop off
turn into birds
if they fall on land,
and colored carp if they
plop into water.

Suddenly the archetypal
human desire for peace
with every other species
wells up in you. The lion  
and the lamb cuddling up.
The snake and the snail, kissing.
Even the prick of the thistle,
queen of the weeds, revives
your secret belief
in perpetual spring,
your faith that for every hurt
there is a leaf to cure it.


Amy Gerstler, “In Perpetual Spring” from Bitter Angel (New York: North Point Press, 1990). Copyright © 1990 by Amy Gerstler. Reprinted with the permission of the author at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/176957

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