Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A timeless story...

After a long hectic day on Sunday I sat in my office, somewhat unable to move, as the week and weekend's events had finally caught up with me.  The busyness of Advent and Christmas in a church loom over it all, my sister had surgery last week, holiday travels, unexpected (but welcomed) visitors stopped by, my senior minister was in the hospital, Children's Christmas plays, power outages at church... Sunday night was the first time I finally had a chance to begin to process Friday's events in Newtown, CT.

While speaking with two of my young adults in my office I mentioned that while of course this tragedy at Sandy Hook is awful and I'm still trying to wrap my head around it, I'm not all that surprised, and that is what bothers me the most.  I still can't fathom the grief and despair, or the overwhelming loss, but I'm bothered most by the fact that this doesn't seem surprising.

The earliest attack or form of real violence that I can remember was Waco, TX in 1993.  Then there was the OK City bombing in 1995.  Then there was Jonesboro, Columbine, September 11th; then shoe bombs on planes, more school shootings that never made the news because there was only one or two people killed, the unabomber and of course the Westboro Baptist Church continues to be violent and deadly in their own awful way.  Life has been characterized by deaths of soldiers and police officers, Virginia Tech, the Amish school shooting in Pennsylvania, Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, the movie theater in Colorado, the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and now Sandy Hook Elementary.

Anyone that is near my age and younger... we are exhausted, and if you're like me, at a loss for words because you've already said the same type of things to yourself over and over and over again.  "Never again," "When will it end?" and "Something has to change."  These words are being said closer and closer to one another as yet one more story tears across headlines, Twitter feeds and cell phones.

I have had a more than privileged and blessed life, but it is also an awful life.  I  have ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS known violence, hatred and death as part of my life, even if not directly, and it doesn't appear as if it will change any time soon.  I am not alone in this.

We blame mental healthcare access, gun control, drugs, international security, "big brother," and that one political party.  Then we blame foreign countries, various forms of religion, the institution of marriage, violent movies and video games, the military, the media and of course that other political party.

We're fearful to fly, fearful of vehicles parked in certain places, and fearful of churches, temples and synagogues.  We've stopped living our lives because we are afraid to go to the movie theater, afraid to send our children to school and fearful of nearly everyone that does not think or look like our own family.

But we are not meant to live lives full of fear, or dread, or violence, or hatred, or death.

Humanity sucks.  We do.  We're awful to one another on so many levels.  We suck.  And we've sucked for a REALLY REALLY LONG TIME, and chances are we're going to continue sucking.  But there are also so many moments of great hope, when we can be amazing toward one another.  These "26 moments that restore our faith in humanity" are proof that our lives are not about fear, dread, hatred and death, rather of hope.  (And these are just the 26 that social media could capture.)  There is so much darkness in our world, but there is also SO, SO, SO much light... and "the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."

The Christmas story is a timeless story because it tells us of life and hope in the darkest of places.  Instead of focusing on why the government couldn't provide enough "room in the inn," or what political ploy drove the census, we focus on the coming Light into the world.  Instead of arguing about the nationality of the shepherds and/or the Magi and whether they are "legal" or "illegal" and allowed to cross certain borders, we focus on the Good News that came to all people.  Instead of focusing on a poor, unwed mother and questioning her sexual exploits and whether or not she had proper access to contraceptives we focus on the Incarnation that came to us in the form of a helpless, vulnerable baby boy, so that we would know we are never without God's presence.

Sandy Hook's story cannot be about gun control.  Sandy Hook's story cannot only be about healthcare.  Sandy Hook's story cannot continue to be the politicized conversation that drives a wedge in between all of us.  The victims of Sandy Hook will be lost among this conversation if we continue to tell this story of hatred, fear, misunderstanding and dread.

Instead, Sandy Hook's story needs to be about the lives of those lost, and the hope that their short-lived lives provide to us.  Instead, Sandy Hook's story needs to  focus on the ways communities come together to support those who are grieving an unthinkable loss.  Instead, Sandy Hook's story needs to be about the ways that God-in-us grieves together in support with those who cannot fathom this loss.  Instead, Sandy Hook's story needs to focus on how God-with-us, the very best of humanity overcomes the very worst of humanity.

I know the conversations around gun control, access to better mental healthcare, religion in public schools and many other political issues will continue - and they should on some level.

But the timeless story we tell of this generation cannot continue to focus on the fear, dread, violence, hatred, or death of all those stories mentioned above.  We must find a new way to tell this story of our generation, and particularly of Sandy Hook.  We must find a different way to tell the story of this generation that does not center around the violence and hatred of all those stories above.  We must find a way to share this story that focuses on the hope, and the love, and the faith that comes when it seems like those things are lost and impossible to find.  The timelessness of this story must be on how the very best of our actions overcomes the very worst, of how the light does not allow the darkness to overcome it.

Hope and faith in times like this may be called naive.  But when little else gives light and life in so much darkness, stories of hope and faith are the strongest responses we can have.  So tell those stories of hope and faith, from Sandy Hook and elsewhere.  Because THOSE are the stories that will provide light in a generation of much darkness, and join our story with that timeless story of hope and life.  Much like the story we will celebrate in about a week, those stories of hope, and life and faith even in the darkest places are the stories that will change the world.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Just... stop... talking.

Dear Politicians:

I am a 30 something year old woman who would like you to stop talking about my reproductive organs since you CLEARLY do not have a good understanding of anything about my body.  Listening to YOUR understanding of my body, my reproductive organs, and the choices I make with them feels a little something like this.

While this video is adorable and I celebrate the creativity and understandings of a child - YOU are not a child.  Neither are you a doctor, nor are you a theologian, nor are you a woman, and you just.... need....to....STOP.

I understand that many different professionals have to come together in order to make policy surrounding issues such as abortion, rape, birth control, medical care for my uterus, etc. but you can also make sure you understand this clearly, and focus on YOUR profession, leaving those other professionals to do their jobs.  I have never been pregnant, I have never been in the situation of needing to make a decision about an abortion, nor have I ever been raped.  But I am a woman, I am a theologian, and I am a minister.  Those three things alone make me qualified to tell you to STOP TALKING AND LISTEN.

I am not advocating that you have agree with my personal decisions, nor compromise your own personal beliefs.  However, leave the job of professionals up to those professionals.  Use them as guides and help along the way but actually LISTEN to them as you work together, doing YOUR job, not the job of others.

If you listen to them, ministers, rabbis, imams and other religious leaders will tell you that theologians around the world have been pondering, discussing, arguing, and praying about why horrible things happen in our world for CENTURIES.  So let that serve as a reminder, that you, on your soap box during an election year are NOT qualified to make definitive statements about why rape happens; nor are you qualified to speak about something that might happen as the result of that rape.  Doctors will tell us the HOW things happen in an instance of horrific assault, theologians and ministers can help women and their loved ones grapple with the WHY.  But you Mr. Politician, you can deal with the WHAT and that is your only job.  What needs to happen now that this unspeakable sexual assault has happened?  What needs to happen so that this woman feels like she should report it, because she trusts that all efforts will be made to bring her attacker to justice?  What needs to happen so that this woman does not feel condemned to a life she did not choose?  What needs to happen so that this woman can use her OWN personal, moral and religious convictions to work through this horrible experience?  What needs to happen to remind this woman that she lives in a free country that seeks out her liberty and well-being?

I am a religious leader, and I am telling you that your religious convictions DO NOT matter to me, nor should they heavily influence your policy making discussions.  I know they will some, but we live in a free country where your religions convictions should be as separate from your policy making as possible.  Instead, your policy discussions should surround the question, "Does the United States government, the government of a free nation where its people are allowed to practice whatever version of religion they choose, or choose not to, have the right make decisions for women OR MEN who have been raped?"

Do not ponder why this happened, if the woman's skirt was too short, or if you think she was "asking for it."  Do not ponder why this woman chose not to come forward right away, or why she still felt violated, assaulted and attacked even if it was someone she knew and trusted.  Do not ponder why this woman only said STOP sixteen times instead of seventeen.  Do not ponder why this woman's grief and fear have kept her from remembering every single detail of every single awful moment.  Do not ponder why this woman conceived a child out of this horrific experience.  JUST STOP.

Instead, ponder what the social services of our governments can do to support this woman, her loved ones, and possibly the child that comes out of this experience.  Ponder what policies need to change so that they are SUPPORTIVE and not CONDEMNING.  Ponder the ways that our government can give liberty and well-being back to someone who has been violated on the most intimate level possible.  Ponder the ways that you can get as much information as possible from professionals in their various fields so that you can make INFORMED decisions.

Most of all - if you do not have these lady parts constantly in question and discussion - SIT BACK.  Invite a WOMAN to your party of professionals and LISTEN to HER.  Invite women who have experienced these horrific acts to come to share their stories, without fear, and LISTEN to them.  Just stop talking.  Start listening to those who are directly involved in these experiences.  Stop talking and listen to the professionals that are qualified to do so.  And then... after you have done all the listening you think you have to do.  Listen some more.  Then, and only then are you qualified to do your own job.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

I'm a Minister Too!

No.  No, you're not.  You were licensed on the internet for $29.95 to perform wedding ceremonies (and sometimes only temporarily).

I feel like I'm a pretty good sport.  I swear I've heard just about every comment under the sun when I tell people that I'm a minister, and I can smile and graciously respond to almost all of them.  My parents taught me a lot about being gracious and how to act in public, so 99/99999% of the time I can handle anything or any comments people throw at me.  Sometimes they straight up don't believe me.  (One time they just turned around and walked away!)  Sometimes they are intrigued and ask a few questions.  Sometimes they are judgmental and ask LOTS of questions (basically trying to discredit my "claim").  Sometimes they ask really personal questions that are none of their business but most of the time they want to talk about THEMSELVES and how they have interacted with and/or experienced the church.

Most of the time they want to tell me about their church (yay _____ church - you're doing a good job!).  The other response I get often is they want to tell me all the reasons they don't appreciate/follow/like organized religion.  (Lawyers, I'm genuinely intrigued; do people start telling you how much they hate the law?)  But like I said, I'm willing to listen.  I know several people have been hurt by the church, and the deserve to have "the church," hear them out.  Did they plan to share their hurt with "the church," while sitting at a lunch counter in the airport?  Probably not, but I'll listen and "be the church," for them.  It might not be THE one thing that brings them back to the church or organized religion - but they deserve to be heard.

Most recently on my way back from an AMAZING spiritual retreat with some of the most amazing ministers I know a conversation began with a man while we were waiting for our plane.  We started talking about football because the Saints game was on, but after having to wait for our flight for quite some time, the conversation turned to a variety of other things, including what we do for a living.

He works for an electrical company selling to builders and other contractors, and oh yeah, after I told him that I am a minister he let me know that he is too.  He got ordained on the internet.

To be fair, I recognize that not everyone that gets married is spiritual or religious and that people desire to have meaningful weddings without a religious component.  In that regard, find a Justice of the Peace that is known for performing weddings, that can do it with feeling, respect, and integrity for the relationship that you are honoring.  Find a way for someone you trust and respect to be licensed to perform weddings.  Whether it is on the internet or through the County Clerks office - find a way to have an officiant that is licensed, not tied to a church and not a MINISTER - that's what you wanted, right?  However, if you are not religious, do not have a religious background and do not want to get married by a minister - then DON'T.  Please do not ask one of your friends to "get ordained" on the internet for $29.95 and call it "being a minister."

The church has had a LONG history of working with ministers within the church so that they can serve this Body of Christ even if it is not in the traditional way.  The Christian Church (DOC), along with several other mainline protestant churches, is working to develop programs that will allow second career and bi-vocational ministers to still DO MINISTRY with their churches even in different contexts.  Whether its through online M.Div. programs or through commissioned ministry in which you consistently have a a mentor to work with you, the church is working to help people interested in MINISTRY get to where they need to be.

That being said - those who have been "ordained" on the internet - I respect your right to be LICENSED to perform weddings.  I respect the need for such individuals in light of many people not wanting religious ceremonies, nor connections to a certain religious body.  However - stop calling yourselves ministers.  You do not minister.  You are licensed to perform weddings - and some may do it with great integrity and respect - but you are not ministers.  Please leave this classification for those of us that choose this incredibly hard, but incredibly rewarding way of life - and those of us that regardless of our life circumstances make every effort we can to ACTUALLY be ministers.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

30 X 30 - State Ballet & Nutcracker

(Following a friend's example, in honor of my 30th birthday I have decided to post 30 things I have accomplished in my life in 30 years.  So for the remaining 4 days leading up to my birthday watch for a new post each day celebrating these 30 things.)

I was secretly hoping for an embarrassing photo to accompany this post, but since many of my memories are in boxes back in Kansas City - I suppose that will have to wait.

In my 30 years I have danced many a dances.  Choreographed or otherwise I have shaken my booty many a times, at many occasions and to many different types of music.  However one of the neatest ways that I could dance was to dance for the State Ballet of Missouri and in The Nutcracker.  from 3rd - 5th grade I was in over 60 performances with a professional dance company for all of Kansas City to see.  Sure, it was loads of fun to get out of school for such a special event, but it was even more amazing to be a part of it.

The Nutcracker is one of the quintessential ballets in which to participate - and to do so at such a young age was exciting.  I remember the ballerinas running around back stage, hurrying to perform, yet also taking the time  to sign a ballet shoe or two for all those of us who looked up to them.  I was technically under the direction of Todd Bolender (and remember meeting him) who worked with one of the most well know contemporary choreographers, George Balanchine, who helped to found the New York City Ballet.

It may seem small since I was only a child - but my brief time with the State Ballet of Missouri and the Nutcracker were certainly influential.

Monday, May 21, 2012

30 X 30 - Travels of Paul

(Following a friend's example, in honor of my 30th birthday I have decided to post 30 things I have accomplished in my life in 30 years.  So for the remaining 5 days leading up to my birthday watch for a new post each day celebrating these 30 things.)

Seminary was good to me... because in my 30 years I have visited 8 countries outside of the US and 4 of them came during my time in seminary.  Poland had its own feel to it - a unique trip to say the least - and a little side trip to London to follow.  However, one of my favorite times in seminary was certainly the "Travels of Paul," trip we took to Greece and Turkey in January 2007.  The Bible can seem so abstract at times, almost surreal without an opportunity to visualize these people who are sharing their stories of faith and their experiences with the Divine.  However, several of us from LTS had the opportunity to walk in the "footsteps of Paul," as we followed his path to visit several of the churches that began to spring up in the infancy of Christianity.

This trip was informative, shaping, downright fun and lucky for us - also counted as a credit for school!  OK, so the reading and the paper helped with that. :)  Either way - what an experience!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

30 x 30 - Travel

(Following a friend's example, in honor of my 30th birthday I have decided to post 30 things I have accomplished in my life in 30 years.  So for the remaining 6 days leading up to my birthday watch for a new   post each day celebrating these 30 things.)

In my 30 years I have had so many opportunities to travel I sometimes can't believe it.  At one point I had a list going of the states that I have visited with the intention of visiting all of them in my lifetime but I have stopped keeping up with that list.  Instead I celebrate the list of the countries I have had the chance to visit.... New Zealand, Fiji, Australia, Mexico, Spain, England, Greece, Turkey and Poland... and hopefully many more to come!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

30 X 30 - New Zealand

(Following a friend's example, in honor of my 30th birthday I have decided to post 30 things I have accomplished in my life in 30 years.  So for the remaining 7 days leading up to my birthday watch for a new   post each day celebrating these 30 things.)

In my 30 years I have celebrated my birthday in many places and come to think of it, I've actually celebrated my birthday in at least 3 different countries.  Exactly 10 years ago I was celebrating my 20th birthday in New Zealand complete with fairy bread.

I lived and studied in New Zealand February - July 2002 - during which time I got to do some amazing amazing things.  Along with a few others, I took an awesome Maori Studies class at Victoria University and learned about the indigenous people of NZ, I sailed on a sailboat, went sea kayaking, jumped off a bridge and out of a plane.  I traveled by myself around the North Island for one week and then joined my brother and my NZ brother on a tour of the South Island.  I lived with an amazing family that IS truly my family.  I vacationed on a winery and a ranch where I helped make wine and rode four wheelers.  I went horse back riding, spelunking and swimming in natural hot springs.  I saw  plays, ballets and symphonies, visited Te Papa, Government House, Parliament and a marae.

While I would love to continue to share every tiny detail of my time in New Zealand, I can't begin to name all the amazing people that made my time in New Zealand what it was, or all the ways that they influenced who I was to be the person I am today.  So instead I will leave you with pictures of my 20th birthday tea party - something every NZ little girl has - because even though I wasn't a little girl, I was sure to get in as many experiences as possible! :D

Friday, May 18, 2012

30 X 30 - Baptisms

(Following a friend's example, in honor of my 30th birthday I have decided to post 30 things I have accomplished in my life in 30 years.  So for the remaining 8 days leading up to my birthday watch for a new   post each day celebrating these 30 things.)

In my 30 years one privilege that very few people in life will have is that I have baptized and dedicated children and adolescents, including my niece Madeline, as they begin their life in Christ.  I also have the privilege of being connected to my niece Kate even more than we already are (have I mentioned we are the same child?), by being her God-mother.  I know many are PRESENT during baptisms and dedications - but to be the one that performs these actual rituals is sometimes beyond my imagination!  Whether baptizing as infants, or as adolescents at an "age of reason," or sharing in the family's joy as they bring their child to be dedicated to God, it is a tremendous privilege to be present when someone's life is dedicated to Christ.  It is also a challenge to each and every one of us present to remember our own commitments to Christ when we are there encouraging another child of God to dedicate their life to the way of Christ!

Time and time again in my career (sometimes I don'f feel like I should call it that, because it feels like so much MORE than a "job") I don't understand why I have the distinct privilege to be a part of such a sacred time.  It's humbling to be a part of parents' decisions - that parenting is hard, and we don't know all the ins and outs, we don't know all the right answers - but what we do know is that we want our child raised in the light of Christ.  And children, when they begin to ask the tough questions, and to become comfortable with the mystery and to trust that no matter the answers, they know Christ is the way.  How did I get so lucky?  Baptisms and dedications are certainly some of those moments that I give thanks and think, "how lucky am I?"

Thursday, May 17, 2012

30 X 30 - Brooke

(Following a friend's example, in honor of my 30th birthday I have decided to post 30 things I have accomplished in my life in 30 years.  So for the remaining 9 days leading up to my birthday watch for a new   post each day celebrating these 30 things.)

One of the most surreal things that has happened in my 30 years is that on January 22, 2009 I watched my best friend take her last breath.  You may remember from an earlier post that I am no stranger to being around death, or those who have lost loved ones, but until January 22 I had never been in the room just steps away from one you love as they breathe in their very last breath.

I certainly don't hope anyone HAS to have that experience - but to be present during such a sacred moment is certainly something for which I give thanks.  No - I wish every day that I could have Brooke here with us, BUT if she had to go, and if she would no longer suffer - then I was thankful that I could be with her up until the very last moments of her time here on earth with us.

In honor and in memory of a woman who CONTINUES to touch my life today - I share with you the post I shared on January 24, 2009 right after we lost our dear dear Brooke.  NBL Brooke... NBL.

"On Thursday, January 22, 2009 my dear friend Mary Ericka Brooke Schneitman passed away after a long struggle with Marfan Syndrome.

Brooke and I met in August 2005 when I first came to seminary and we quickly became friends. Brooke suffered an aortic dissection just 33 days after I met her - but it was very apparent during that first episode that she was insanely loved and cared for by the entire seminary community. We kept in touch during her recovery and I was insanely excited when she returned to Lexington the summer of 2006 to complete her seminary degree.

Although Brooke continued to struggle with the "side effects" of Marfan Syndrome, Brooke continued to live a very full life. Brooke has been a daughter, a sister, and a friend. Brooke has known intense friendships, romantic relationships, a great family and has offered intense amounts of love to everyone she meet. Brooke not only graduated college with a ministry degree, but successfully graduated with a Master of Divinity degree and was ordained as a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Although I didn't know Brooke for very long if you're measuring in years - Brooke was most certainly one of my best friends. I could trust Brooke that I could always be myself, that she would be supportive and loving, but she also always managed to keep me honest with myself and grounded amid the chaos I call my life. She was an amazing friend, sister, counselor, angel and minister. She was also an amazing artist that was able to grasp the many emotions of life and make them tangible for many to see. She touched the lives of everyone she knew and will be missed by so many.

Brooke was an inspiration to me in many many ways. I find intense inspiration in the ways she approached her ministry and in the approach she took on life. I am most certainly a better person for having known her. I am inspired by her relationships and her friendships, and by her dedication and loyalty. She was passionate and focused, yet fun-loving and carefree all at the same time. Brooke's strength and resolve were unparalleled, and I only hope to keep alive the wonderful things that she taught so many. Brooke most certainly took the road less traveled, and while I'm sure it made all the difference for her - she also made an intense difference in the lives of those she met.

Brooke - I am so proud of you for being such an amazing woman - I have loved knowing you and I am so thankful that I got to be a part of your life, even for just a little while. I will miss you desperately - and I'm still struggling quite a bit with the idea that you won't be here. Your strength and passion for life will be remembered and honored. I know that you are at peace, and that you are no longer in pain - for which I am grateful. I love you Brooke - know that you were, are and will always be loved by many."

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

30 X 30 - Music

(Following a friend's example, in honor of my 30th birthday I have decided to post 30 things I have accomplished in my life in 30 years. So for the remaining 10 days leading up to my birthday watch for a new post each day celebrating these 30 things.)

In my 30 years it is hard to imagine a time when music has not been a part of my life.  Whether it was dancing around the house, singing at church, pretending a wrapping paper tube was a microphone, or actual music lessons - one way or another music has always added to the soundtrack of my life.

I started playing piano at a young age and remember fondly all my teachers who taught me the importance of discipline.  I played the recorder and the oboe in 6th grade, and if that didn't make me cool enough I started playing the bassoon when I was in 7th grade.  I was part of choir from 6th grade on, competed with Concert Choir as a high school student and sang in all the HS musicals.  In HS as a way to REALLY up my coolness factor I was not only a part of the marching band, I was the leader - drum major since 9th grade - head drum major 11th and 12th grade.  I had the fortune of traveling with my HS band to marching competitions, but also to neat opportunities like being THE band selected from Missouri to play in Washington DC when each state send a HS band to play all around the capital.

I kid about how being in the band "upped" my coolness factor - but in all reality my friends were my friends through thick and thin and we had the best time in HS.  Luckily, Liberty HS was not really a place that it mattered too much what "group" you were in - so I was able to enjoy the music all the way through.

Since HS I continued to sing a bit in college, mainly just with our sorority group, "The Pickers," but I also continue to play the piano off and on and have started to teach myself the guitar... not something to which I devote enough time.  I still sing in the church choir, remember fondly all that music has taught me and love the ability to get lost in a song.  Certain songs flood my brain with great memories, some make me laugh while others make me cry - but no matter what - music will certainly be a part of my next 30 years.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

30 X 30 - Bungee

(Following a friend's example, in honor of my 30th birthday I have decided to post 30 things I have accomplished in my life in 30 years. So for the remaining 11 days leading up to my birthday watch for a new post each day celebrating these 30 things.)

Before I share yet one more crazy thing i've done in the name of traveling and "living the whole experience," let me remind you that I am in fact afraid of heights.  Some one once heard all these crazy things I've done and said, "I don't think you ARE afraid of heights."  In fact I am, my heart races like crazy just walking up a really steep flight of stairs.  I refuse to sit in the super high seats at Tiger Stadium because that is TOO D@MN HIGH!

At any rate - one more crazy height that I've overcome in my 30 years is that I went bungee jumping and threw myself off a bridge!

When my brother came to visit me in New Zealand in April 2002 we both went bungee jumping.  My sister and NZ brother went in December 1997 and there was no way I was going to let them show me up!  My brother and I are both uncomfortable with heights (he once crawled up the stairs at Busch Stadium because they were so high) so this was a journey for both of us.

I've also gone parasailing and tried rappelling, but the rappelling was too much and I quit.  I also once cried on a ropes course because whatever group building exercise we were doing was just too dang high.  I might not have conquered all of my fears - but in my 30 years I have certainly conquered quite a few fears and down right punched other fears in the face while I screamed all the way down.

Monday, May 14, 2012

30 X 30 - Dance

(Following a friend's example, in honor of my 30th birthday I have decided to post 30 things I have accomplished in my life in 30 years.  So for the remaining 12 days leading up to my birthday watch for a new  post each day celebrating these 30 things.)

In my 30 years I'm not sure my parents nor I could count the number of tights, dance shoes, leotards, hair-ties, bobbi pins, hairspray bottles, dance costumes or the like that were purchased.  I have been dancing since as long as I can remember and I am ECSTATIC that Pure Barre is opening a new location so close to my house so I can get back to it.

I certainly would not be who I am today without all my dance experience.  It's obvious that I am not a professional dancer or anything, so it didn't shape my life experience by determining my profession or anything, but my life wouldn't have been the same without the YEARS AND YEARS of dance.  It helped me to meet new friends when my family moved cities, it gave me structure and schedule, it taught me about hard work and practice, and it taught me to be comfortable in my own skin.  Sure - it was YEARS ago - by my last 30 years wouldn't have been the same without all those dance troupes, dance competitions, or a WONDERFUL dance mom who was NOTHING like those crazy hurtful ones on TV.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

30 X 30 - Sky Diving

(Following a friend's example, in honor of my 30th birthday I have decided to post 30 things I have accomplished in my life in 30 years.  So for the remaining 13 days leading up to my birthday watch for a new  post each day celebrating these 30 things.)

Bucket list item achieved.  March 29, 2002 - Good Friday - I surprised my entire family and went skydiving.  I surprised myself and went skydiving.

I had a two week break when I was studying in New Zealand; I spent the first week traveling by myself around the North Island of New Zealand, and the second week traveling around the South Island with my brother Chad and my NZ brother Jamie.  I went skydiving on my very first day that I left.  I caught a bus in Wellington, headed to Lake Taupo and before I knew it I was on a plane with a clear, what I swear was plastic window ready to jump out!  I paid some extra to have someone jump with me and video and take photos of the whole thing (probably the best $$ I spent while I was over there).  I developed the photos, scanned in a photo or two and sent it to my family who opened the email on Easter morning - Happy Easter! :D

More about New Zealand and my adventures on the South Island later... but first my skydiving pictures :D

Saturday, May 12, 2012

30 X 30 - Funerals

(Following a friend's example, in honor of my 30th birthday I have decided to post 30 things I have accomplished in my life in 30 years.  So for the remaining 14 days leading up to my birthday watch for a new  post each day celebrating these 30 things.)

One of the most sacred things I have experienced in my life is to perform a funeral.  It is a bit surprising to me how many people reach their 30's only having attended one, maybe two funerals in their lives.  (The same for weddings come to think of it.)  Over these last 30 years I've realized how much my family set the frame work for me to be working in ministry, even though I am the first in our family to choose ministry as my profession.

I don't actually remember this, but I think the first funeral I went to was of my great grandmother on my mother's side.
 (Obviously not my great grandmother's funeral, as she is IN this photo - but I think her's was the first funeral I "attended" at just a few months old)

I DO remember my maternal grandmother's funeral (only vaguely), and the funeral's of my remaining three grandparents as they all passed away somewhere between 1993 and 200.  I remember distinctly the eulogy my dad gave at my grandfather's funeral; most of all, I remember that there was nothing "weird" or "morbid" about funerals.

I remember that funerals were a sacred opportunity to share in our common grief, to share freely whatever one was feeling in a sacred space that was safe and full of love.  I remember that funerals were a place where I saw my parents and my grandparents cry in ways that I never could have imagined.

Since I've become a pastor I've had the privilege, yes the privilege, of helping people through their grief and through those traumatic times.  I have been allowed into to very vulnerable moments, to places where people let down their guard because they have no more strength to hold it up.  I've had the duty of putting into words what so many want to say, to remember, and to memorialize about the one that they love, and I've had the daunting task of reminding loved ones that death does not have the final say.

I'm honored and humbled to say that I have performed a number of funerals in my 30 years and know that I will feel that same distinct privilege when others come along in the future.

Friday, May 11, 2012

30 X 30 - Never Really Alone

(Following a friend's example, in honor of my 30th birthday I have decided to post 30 things I have accomplished in my life in 30 years.  So for the remaining 15 days leading up to my birthday watch for a new  post each day celebrating these 30 things.)

As indicated by my previous post "Where are you from?" - In my 30 years I have had 12 different addresses in 3 different states, 6 different cities and 2 different countries and counting my immediate family members I have had 23 different roommates.

A significant accomplishment among all of these is that I have also lived ALONE.  Some may not consider this a major accomplishment, but I'm happy to have had this experience and I have had it at three different addresses.  When I moved to seminary I moved there with the help of my parents, but I lived alone for the first year when I lived at the apartments at the seminary.  Then following my break-up in November 2007 I lived alone again (with Sally!) off and on until I moved to Baton Rouge in 2009.  And then, when I moved to Baton Rouge, I lived alone again for the first year.

Now I have certainly had help from my parents along the way when my car breaks down unexpectedly or something along those lines, but I consider it an accomplishment to have lived on my own - and to have done it in a couple different ways.

I pay my own bills, cry when the pipes in my wall burst and I'm not sure if I have to pay for that or the landlord, I mow my own yard, clean the whole house, make Sally get up and bark at stuff when things go bump in the night, jump on a chair when there's a cockroach on the floor (this is normal in Louisiana, do not worry!), think of my mom when there's toothpaste in the sink and I have no one to blame but myself, and rely on myself to have something cooked when I come home from a long day at work.  Living on your own and taking care of it all is hard work sometimes - especially when you have no one else to blame but yourself for the things that don't get done.

I know some women (and men?) who have never lived on their own, who went straight from college back home, or to a marriage, or with roommates - and there's no commentary or judgment on that - just an observation that there are certainly those who have arrived at the age of 30 and have never lived on their own - but I am not one of them.  One of the best feelings I can have at the age of 30 is that I can do it on my own - its my choice whether I want to or not. :)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

30 X 30 - March of Remembrance

(Following a friend's example, in honor of my 30th birthday I have decided to post 30 things I have accomplished in my life in 30 years.  So for the remaining 16 days leading up to my birthday watch for a new  post each day celebrating these 30 things.)

In my 30 years I have been very privileged to travel to many different countries and cities, to visit and to live in lots of different places, but this March of Remembrance trip that I took in 2006 was THE most powerful trip I have ever been on to date.

As part of my seminary education in May 2006 I went on The March Remembrance and Hope to Poland, and specifically Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek.  We visited several historic Holocaust related sites including taking tours through two (really three since Auschwitz and Birkenau are actually quite far apart) concentration camps.  We were accompanied by Pinchas, a Holocaust survivor who was held at Majdanek and told us his story of arriving at this God-forsaken place.

The "presence of the absence," was overwhelming in these places as we remembered the millions of people who were murdered; the sense of hope coming from these Holocaust survivors was equally overwhelming.  It was a little awkward to have my 24th birthday while visiting Auschwitz, but it was probably one of the most significant birthdays as well.

I've always had a weird obsession with the Holocaust ever since I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC in 6th grade and picked up a fantastic book for young readers called "Daniel's Story."  I also had a fantastic English/Gifted teacher in 10th grade who helped our class create a website dedicated to the stories of Children of the Holocaust.

What draws me in time and time again is the human condition.  How broken are we that we are convinced that someone else is less valuable, less of a person, or less of a creation of God because of where they were born, or what family/ethnicity/tradition/religion they were born into?  (Or even if you don't believe in a creator, how is our accidental arrival on earth any better than another's accidental presence?)  I'm not above this and I find myself struggling with judging people for their actions and attitudes all the time (hello broken sinfulness), but I give thanks that by the grace of God I also feel that guilt and uneasy feeling when I start to think more highly of myself than another, because its the uneasy feeling that reminds us of our oneness and connectedness in our Creator.  It breaks my heart and feels like someone is ripping out my insides to think that we are SO BROKEN and feel SO FORSAKEN that we turn on one another as if we are not all created in God's image.

I could write for days on this topic.  Instead, I invite you to look at some of my photos and to re-visit some of my previous posts on "Poland."  I give thanks for this experience - because it has certainly shaped who I am today.

On my actual birthday - after a day at Auschwitz - honoring my birthday with some ice cream. (Because the Pope was there and for some reason the city wouldn't serve liquor when the Pope was in town?)

Pinchas sharing his story