Loss of Future Story and Anticipatory Grief

In seminary I took many pastoral care classes. One of the things that has really stuck with me is about grief. We not only grieve what was, but we also grieve what we hoped would be, our future story. Ending a relationship often requires grieving all that you had imagined your future together would be like. Losing a parent or loved one involves grieving all the events and holidays that they will not be able to celebrate with you. For many, the loss of that future story takes a lot of time and energy during the grieving process. As we realize new times that we won’t be together, like when we are at an event that we wish our loved one was with us.

I’m experiencing a new kind of grief: anticipatory grief and ambiguous loss. I am grieving the loss of someone who is still with us. Though she is not actively in the dying process, she has recently been diagnosed with dementia. I am grieving that she will no longer be the same. Ambiguous loss is grief about losing the way things used to be, and in this case, how she used to be.

One of the ways I deal is by research. I took a class on dementia, and it is brain failure, not unlike my heart failure. That helped me understand it better. By the end, she could lose up to 70%, or 2/3 of her brain. As time goes by, we will lose more and more of “her.” I learned about brain changes and physical changes. She will lose her ability to see well, first her peripheral vision, than it will be like she is looking through binoculars, and then seeing out of only one eye at a time. She is losing her executive functions at a faster rate than normal aging, and her ability to keep herself safe and see logical consequences to actions.

The teacher of my class, Krisie Barron, LSW, said dementia was like going on vacation and never getting to come home. And that home can be a place, or feeling safe, or even looking for themselves. Check out her website https://www.embracingjourneys.com/ . She shared 4 truths about dementia:

  1. Two parts of the brain are dying.
  2. It is chronic, and there is no cure.
  3. It is progressive.
  4. It is terminal.

Before her diagnosis, I had suspected dementia. Learning more about symptoms has made me realize that she may have had dementia for awhile now. Some days she is great. Some days many symptoms are present. She always knows who I am. We have left nothing unsaid, and yet there is so much more I want to know about her life. I want to hear stories again and again, and I want to write them all down. I want to spend time with her, and I feel a new sense of urgency. I want things to be like they were a few years ago, yet I know they never will be the same again.

The theme of the last year for me has been grief. The pandemic caused all of us to grieve many things. Maybe you are still grieving what we lost. Maybe you are grieving a future story of what you hoped would be. Maybe you are grieving in anticipation of how things are not yet normal and what won’t yet happen. Maybe you are grieving ambiguous losses of the ways things used to be. Be gentle with yourself. Be kind to each other. We do not know where anyone is in their grief journey at any given moment.

In the Valley of Dry Bones

Ezekiel 37:11 “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.”

You can read Ezekiel 37:1-14 here.

Reading about the valley of dry bones feels close to home.  As we have passed the year anniversary of being at home in quarantine, many of us may feel that we are cut off completely from our communities. Online worship does not provide the same opportunities to see our church families.  Both of my daughters changed schools this fall, and I have never been inside either building.  It is weird.  The murder of George Floyd and subsequent Chauvin trial, the many other black men and women who have been murdered, the countless mass shootings, the riot at the Capitol on January 6, and the postponement of The United Methodist’s General Conference and the creation of the Global Methodist Church all have me feeling more hopeless than hopeful.

Our bones are dried up.  The life-giving blood and muscle are no longer surrounding them.

 

Ezekiel is written after the destruction of the Temple in 587 BCE.  The community of Jews is scattered.  Their hope is to be able to return to Israel and rebuild the Temple.  I cannot help but feel like much of the U.S. and the United Methodist Church needs rebuilt.  Fear and violence keep us apart.  We are afraid of change.  We are afraid of others.  We are afraid that we will have to give up our comfort for someone else.  It isn’t pie, as the saying goes.

In answer to the exiles’ despair, God says, “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live” (37:14).  The Easter story is about claiming life.  Death and dry bones do not have the final say.  God’s Spirit lives within us and invites us to claim abundant life.  We are invited to focus on life, and all that is life-giving.  To share love, to act with loving hearts, and to see all “others” as people who also have God’s Spirit living within them.   We are invited to see each other as beloveds, rather than strangers. 

John Wesley read this as “a resurrection of the church from an afflicted state to liberty and peace”  (Wesley Study Bible notes p 1032).  This hope can apply to the church universal, as we all try to figure out how to be church together and apart.  It also can apply to the divisiveness within The United Methodist Church as we await the postponed General Conference.  The Church universal has had to pivot during quarantine and is now faced with the challenge of what programs to resume, and what need to remain in the past. 

All of  us can take the lessons we learned in quarantine and decide how we want to live. Do we want to resume all our activities?  Can we seek a balance between activities and being home?  What relationships serve us, and which do not?  What give us life, and what is not life-giving? 

If you are feeling stuck in the valley of dry bones, that is ok.  There is a time to lament, cry, pray, shout, be angry, and wonder if these bones can ever live again.  And it is also ok, when you are ready to claim life in your bones.  To choose how you want your life to be.  To work for change personally and within your communities.  To be aware of God’s Spirit within you and recognize it in everyone else too. 

May you find hope in one another’s love.

On Not Celebrating a Cancer-versary

November 5, 2020 was my five year cancer-versary.  I thought that it would feel like a huge celebration if I made it to that benchmark without a recurrence.  I believed I would feel relieved.  However, that is not how I experienced it at all.   Celebrating is something I am not good at, in general.   Everything changed on that day of diagnosis, and time can be marked from it: before cancer and after cancer.  I have been working to unpack why making it to this goal did not feel more celebratory, and I am ready to share.

  1. Cancer is still a part of my everyday life. 

There is not a day yet that goes by that I don’t think of it.  First of all, it is a reality whenever I dress.  Do I wear a breastform or knitted knocker, or do I go flat? What will I look like with each one of those choices?  Am I even or imbalanced? 

I often say to my husband, “I do not have a right breast.”  He nods, as this is fact, but I am regularly still shocked by it.  Luckily, my scar looks good, and I am so grateful for that, especially since I have seen some pictures of awful ones.  Dr. Fox was a fabulous surgeon in every way, and I will always be grateful for the care she gave me.  (Though I hope to never be her patient again!) 

Herceptin, which was a part of my chemo regimen, damaged my heart.  I will be on heart medications for the rest of my life.  Thankfully, my current heart function is technically no longer in heart failure.  I am able to recognize my symptoms right away, which are primarily fatigue and shortness of breath.  My cardiologist was never too concerned, except for my family history.  He retired, and now I need to find a new doctor.  I have put it off because of the pandemic and symptom management.  However, my oncologist wants me to see a cardiologist before I return to her in June.

I developed asthma after radiation.  I have to use an inhaler twice a day, and carry a rescue inhaler. I know what triggers a reaction, which includes laughing really hard and the cold air.  The others I can usually avoid. 

 Chemotherapy put me into menopause.  I did not ever go back to “normal,” and now I am postmenopausal.  Every evening I have hot flashes.  It is such a fact of life, that my family is used to me suddenly sweating, peeling off layers of clothes, searching for a hair band to put up my hair, and fanning myself.  I take medicine to control night sweats.  My doctor said chemo-induced menopause is worse.  Yay. 

I take a lot of medicine every day.  I get tired of managing my prescriptions. I literally have a shelf carved out in a kitchen cabinet for all of them.  It is annoying.

2. Tamoxifen

I will take it until August 2026.  That seems far away, even though that is only 65 more bottles.  Technically, because I am post-menopausal, I could switch to an aromatase inhibitor.  However, the side effects of it are no better.  At least with Tam I know how my body responds to it even if I do not like it.  The one that upsets me most is the bloated abdomen.  Some days I literally look pregnant.  I get asked how far along I am, and just please never ask anyone that question.  It is hurtful.  I also struggle with losing weight because of it, so I am still carrying the extra 25 pounds I gained during chemo.  My oncologist said her breast cancer patients gain weight instead of losing, so I am still unhappy about that. It is frustrating to know that whether I work hard at diet or exercise, or eat whatever I want and be lazy, my weight does not change.  I try to be healthy and get strong, and not weigh too often.  My husband was in line at the pharmacy behind someone getting Tam.  He said she was obviously older than me and had the bloat.  I belong to enough Tam and survivor support groups to know my symptoms are not unusual. 

3. Healing

After surgery, I did physical therapy to be able to move my right arm again.  This had more to do with the sentinel node biopsy than the mastectomy. I am slowly regaining feeling under my arm, my side, along my scar.  When the nerves begin to “wake up,”   I feel very itchy, yet I am unable to scratch in a way that I can feel to satisfy the itch. Sometimes putting on deodorant is uncomfortable, because I am tender. 

Last January I started a strength training class.  My right arm is still so much weaker than my left, but I am slowly but surely working to make it stronger.  Yoga has helped too, and it also helps with my balance, which is thrown off by my imbalanced chest.

4. Grieving

The stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance – are not linear (https://www.psycom.net/depression.central.grief.html).  The grief is still close enough to the surface that I am aware of it.  Sometimes I might go for a long stretch in the acceptance phase, only to return to being very sad and feeling deformed.  It is only in the last few months that I have been able to give myself the time and space to intentionally grieve all the losses associated with my breast cancer.  It is not something I can check off a to-do list; it may be a part of my process forever.  There is plenty of emotional work that still needs to be done from the loss of my breast, the reality of my heart, menopause, and all the other changes in my body.

5. Other Survivors

My dear friend’s mom had a breast cancer recurrence after twenty years.  She now has stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, and is enduring treatments.  Her type of breast cancer is different than mine, but the fact that it could come back after so long makes me feel I will never be free.  I know of others, like another friend’s mother-in-law who is living with stage 4 MBC and doing ok.  I will always wonder if it has returned.  I am vigilant about noticing changes in my body, and sometimes this is good, and sometimes scary, like when I found a growth on my scar a few years ago.  Thankfully, it was just necrosis, dead scar tissue. 

The only tests I have are bloodwork and annual mammogram.  This is good, because scanxiety is a real thing.  However, it always worries me that we will not catch it before it spreads.

I truly am grateful to continue to be cancer free.  I am thankful for every good report, every time I finish another bottle of Tamoxifen.  Every day is putting me further and further away from the time I was sick.  Though it is a slower process than I would like, I am healing.  I have made many strides, when I think back to where I was five years ago, or even last year.  Maybe I put too much pressure on a date, rather than the daily gratitude of where I am.

Lent 2021

Do You Want to Be Made Well?

That question hits me differently this year, in the midst of a pandemic, when I am concerned with the health of my family, friends, and neighbors I have not even met. We all want this quarantine way of life to be over, yet we also have pandemic fatigue. It is so hard not to hug, visit, or be together. It is so annoying not to travel. The long days of winter seem longer while cooped up at home.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus stops at the pool of Bethsaida where those who are sick gather. Jesus asks a man who has been lying there for 38 years, “Do you want to be made well?” You can read the passage – https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+5%3A1-9&version=CEB

The man is clearly in need of healing. He is at the Sheep Gate, at the pool rumored to be stirred up by an angel of the Lord sometimes, and the first person to get in that moving water is healed. Why would Jesus ask him if he wants to be healed? Of course he wants to be healed, and says a loud, “YES!” Actually, that is not how the story goes at all. Instead of shouting yes, the man tells Jesus that he needs someone to put him in the water, and that someone always beats him to it. Maybe that is the truth. Maybe it is an excuse. Maybe he has been ridiculed so much in his life that he is defensive.

Do you want to be made well? Yes, but not if I have to do anything about it. I am tired of wearing a mask, staying home, and not seeing other people. I am tired of not eating out, traveling, or even having a vacation planned. I am tired of hearing stories of people dying, of long-term consequences of having covid-19, and also hearing others denying the severity of the virus. I am tired of having loved ones contract covid, and worrying about others potentially contracting it. I am tired, because this has been going on for almost a year, and I have done my part and tried to make the best choices and follow guidelines. (I am sure I have failed at times.)

We all want the pandemic to be over, but then pandemic fatigue is real, and we start taking risks. We want to escape the frigid winter and go some place warm. We expand our pod. We dine in, unmasked while we eat. We hug, because we need each other. Do you want this to end? Yes, but I am tired of this way of life. We started this pandemic during Lent last year. In many ways, it seems like this last year has been a year of Lent, in the penitential and sacrificial ways of observing it.

Ash Wednesday is one of my favorite days in the liturgical calendar.  Why?  We remember that we are mortal – we have been formed from dust and to dust we shall return. Genesis 2:7 “then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”  It is a day that we remember our failings, and take a step in healing. Lent is the period of 40 days plus six Sundays leading up to Easter.  It is a time of reflection, self-examination, and deepening our relationship with God.  Sometimes people give something up or take something on to aid in their spiritual focus during the season. Every Lent, I think my life is going to be changed.  Each year, when I allow myself to be changed, I am.  When I fight the transformation, when I don’t allow God to do God’s healing work in me, then my life doesn’t change.

“Do you want to be made well?”  I pray that we will not answer like the sick man, with fact or excuse. I pray that we will instead open ourselves up to healing. I pray that we will allow the healing work of God to transform us. I pray that we will all care for one another by wearing masks, by doing our part to not spread the virus, and by reaching out to those who are lonely. I pray that this pandemic will end sooner rather than later. I pray that I have the wisdom to always seek healing.

Christian Nationalism and Civic Religion

I am not one of “those” Christians.  I do not want to be associated with a racist, patriarchal institution that spouts a theology of white supremacy and exclusivism.  However, I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus, and an ordained pastor in The United Methodist Church (UMC). 

Christian nationalism is a blending of Christian and American identities. The teachings of the Bible and the words of our constitution get mixed together, and for some Christian nationalists, being an American and a Christian cannot be separated. However, being an American does not necessarily equal being a Christian.  Being a patriot requires loyalty to the Constitution and country, but not to a particular faith.  Many Christian nationalists believe they have God-given rights.  Many who would not consider themselves Christian nationalists, believe the 4th of July, Memorial Day, Veterans Day should be amplified in church services.  Cultural holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day get mixed in as well.  We sing “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world,” but then “God Bless America” with a vigor of ownership.  Christianity is not limited to one country.  It is global.  Somehow many believe that America is better than other countries because God deemed it so.  We have whitewashed Jesus to look like someone of European descent rather than the Middle Eastern Jewish man he was. 

You can read more about Christian nationalism in this article from Relevant magazine. https://www.relevantmagazine.com/magazine/under-god-the-rise-of-christian-nationalism/

I am an American Christian, but I am not a Christian nationalist.  I am a patriot, loyal to my country, but also not afraid to critique it. Our current political division, with all the name-calling, inability to work together, and lack of civil discourse troubles me, both as a patriot and as a follower of Jesus.

Our country’s forefathers specifically did not make The United States of America a Christian nation.  Religious freedom is in the Bill of Rights.  The first Amendment begins,  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” 

Separation of church and state means no religious leader should use their pulpit to tell their congregations how to vote.  It is certainly acceptable to encourage people to exercise their civic duty to vote, but endorsing a particular candidate or political party is not.  I admit that it can be tricky as a pastor.  I am guessing that many think they know how I voted.  I have been more willing to join political conversations as I age.  However, I would never tell someone what to think or how to vote.  Nor will I have political yard signs, or work for a particular candidate.  Because I live in Minnesota where we caucus, I do not even feel comfortable participating in that process because publicly identifying with a candidate seems wrong as a pastor.  However, I know many of my colleagues are able to manage their private politics and public pulpit differently. 

One of the beautiful things about our country is that we do not have to all think alike.  We also should not condemn each other for thinking differently.  Democracy and our election process does mean there are winners and losers.  However, it also provides opportunity to come together to do the work of the people.  All people, not just PACS and the 1%.  Admittedly, I have lost a lot of faith in politicians who seem to be able to be bought and sold, rather than putting the best interests of their constituents first.  I am weary of people who would rather be right than willing to do the right thing.  The divisiveness makes me sad and angry.

Why do we as humans naturally divide into us and them?  We need to unite against a common threat, it seems, instead of uniting as citizens of our country.  America has always been a melting pot.  Now we debate immigration policy as a partisan issue. 

I am a Jesus-follower.  I would prefer to identify myself in that way so that I am not identified with the Christians who stormed the Capitol.  I do not want to be identified with those who claim to be pro-life but who built gallows to kill those who did not agree with them or do their bidding.  Thank God for being in charge of Christianity!  I pray that God will help us get out of the mess civil religion and Christian nationalism have caused. 

You can read more about how Christianity was on display on January 6, 2021 here: https://apnews.com/article/christianity-capitol-riot-6f13ef0030ad7b5a6f37a1e3b7b4c898

Civil religion is “a public profession of faith that aims to inculcate political values and that prescribes dogma, rites, and rituals for citizens of a particular country.”  https://www.britannica.com/topic/civil-religion. We watched it play out in the Inauguration.  I enjoyed the pomp and circumstance, the music, and especially the poetry.  I also watched the prayer service online the next day.  It was interfaith, but mostly Christian.  President Biden is Catholic, and he had a priest deliver the Invocation at the Inauguration.  During his own address, POTUS asked the audience to join him in a prayer.  Though I enjoyed both the Inauguration and the prayer service, afterward I felt a little uneasy.  Just as I was uncomfortable with Christian nationalists, I was also uncomfortable with the use of Christianity amid the civic ritual.

I am a product of mainstream Protestantism, specifically UMC, which became that iteration in 1968, and has been declining ever since.  My denomination is global, and therefore not a national religion.  My alma mater was a Protestant liberal arts college, specifically PCUSA.  I attended a Southern liberal Divinity School for seminary, that was no longer affiliated with any specific denomination.  My faith informs my politics, and I would be naïve if I didn’t admit that my politics inform my faith.  Politics encourages me to think of things that I might never think about in my private life.  I am grateful for the UMC’s Book of Discipline that has guidelines for what the denomination believes in its Social Principles, that I can go to for not only my personal beliefs, but also to help congregation members who may have questions or struggles.  I was taught to be a critical thinker, and to figure out for myself what I believe. In my tradition, we use the Wesleyan Quadrilateral of Scripture, Reason (my own mind and that of other theologians and leaders), Tradition (the Book of Discipline, church history), and Experience (prayer, and my own life). https://www.umc.org/en/content/glossary-wesleyan-quadrilateral-the

Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” (Common English Bible)  He also taught the Greatest Commandment “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” Matthew 22:37-40.

The way we as Christians treat our neighbors is not a good witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We are not loving in American right now.  There are those who are fearful of the new Administration.  There is much cynicism.  There is much discrimination, and white supremacy needs to be dismantled.  I hope that we will denounce all forms of white supremacy, systemic racism, injustice, by remaining engaged instead of silent.  I hope that those of us who follow Jesus will work at loving our neighbor, ALL neighbors.  I hope that we will put aside our partisan differences to work together “to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8.

May we live out our faith and demonstrate love of country without conflating the two.  I realize that some of you may disagree with me. I welcome civil discourse in the comments. I also realize that by taking a side against Christian nationalism, some people will feel attacked. That is not my intention. I am sharing my personal beliefs and concerns. Though I feel strongly, I am humble enough to admit that I may not always be right.

New Year, New Word

One of my friends inspired me to choose a word for each year. 2020 word was health. I did indeed do a lot of work on my physical, mental, and emotional health.

I started last year strong with yoga, tennis, and strength class. The pandemic knocked tennis out, but home school also afforded me more time outside with the girls, and yes, tennis with them. B and I explored lots of new parks and went on lots of walks. This fall I took a hiking class. Though I did not lose much weight last year, I am physically stronger, which is important. I continue to have positive checkups with my regular doctor and oncologist. (I skipped cardiologist in 2020).

Mentally and emotionally I did some hard work too. Of course I continue therapy. I did have to quit coaching when the pandemic hit, because I did not have the bandwidth to learn how to do church differently, help with eLearning, and do all the things. One positive about the pandemic is how much it helped with perspective. I was able to make some difficult decisions to choose my emotional health, and I have no regrets.

2021 is starting out in the midst of the pandemic, with hope from the vaccine, but no date for when “Normalcy” may return. I was tempted to just keep health as my word, or modify to healing. Plenty of work left to do in all aspects of my health, of course, but won’t there always be more work to do in health? Instead, I decided that I might need to see what word I would receive. Maybe instead of choosing a word with intention, which is a fine plan, I should see what word would be given to me. I chose to listen instead of overthink.

The word for 2021 is PLAY. Ironically, it will be a lot of work to play. I am not good at play. Sure, I love board games, and have come to love puzzles. I don’t mind Legos or cars. I force myself to jump on the trampoline so that my girls collapse in giggles making fun of me. I have been so busy caring for others and doing what I thought was expected of me, that I forgot how to play. I lost the simple practice of knowing what I want and doing that. I do not seem to know what will make me happy. Being a stay-at-home mother affords me time in a different way than working part time. In many ways, I feel like I have less time. The days seem like a long list of shoulds that will never get done. In other ways, a mostly empty calendar gives me freedom of time I have never had before.

My therapist suggested I jump in a pile of leaves with my girls. The thought sounded revolting. I raked a pile of leaves. I jumped once. It did nothing for me. With the confines of pandemic life, I have both the freedom of time and the restrictions of place. I do not know how live into this new word other than taking it moment by moment. Looking inward, what do I want to do in this moment. Being fully present in this moment. Letting go of the shoulds, and instead focusing on what I might actually want to do is a mindshift.

In the brief days of trying to live into the word play, I learned that sometimes play comes when I do something that does not sound great at first. For example, I did not really want to play Just Dance, but it was pretty fun. I am grateful for all the family game nights since last March that have made me laugh hysterically until I sometimes literally need my rescue inhaler. My patient girls continue to invite me in to their play. I asked a few friends to help me. I welcome your suggestions, as long as you know that they might be read with an eye roll.

For 2021, I hope you find some time to play too.

Sundays

For the second time in my ministry, I am appointed to family leave.  The first time was when my older daughter was one.  As she grew and became more aware and fun, I struggled with the competing roles of mother and pastor, not unlike many working parents.  It hurt when I picked her up from our wonderful caregiver, and she did not want to leave.  It hurt when she was at a church meeting with me and then my husband picked her up on his way home from work to put her to bed.  It hurt that she always wanted him, because he was the one putting her to bed most nights.  Even as I am married to a well-adjusted preacher’s kid (PK), the fears of the horror PK stories would sometimes cause me to hold my breath.

It was so difficult to leave a church I loved, but I did not regret my decision.  Those early years were fun, though totally exhausting at the time.  With my issues with pregnancy, I was right in knowing that I could not care for a toddler, a church, and be pregnant all at the same time.

This family leave is different.  My girls are 8 and 11, and so independent and self-sufficient.  However, it hurt when I came home so emotionally exhausted and had nothing left to give them.  It hurt when they needed me, and I had to go back to work. It hurt when I had to let go of a tiny hand or remove a child from my lap in the pew to go up front to lead worship. It hurt when, after worship, they want to tell me about Sunday School, and I ignore them to finish a conversation with a parishioner.  Like my competing children, I often felt like my parishioners and children were competing for my attention. Whoever I chose to focus on, the other felt hurt.  I knew which parishioners adored my children, and who felt jealous when I was mothering someone else, whether my own children or another parishioner. 

Being a clergy mother is a beautiful privilege.  However, it is not many jobs where you bring your family to work, and your family is expected to be present.  Literally being all things to all people takes its toll.  Sometimes that work of trying to do it all hurt my heart. 

I hope both my congregations I left for family leave understand it is more about me than them.  I want to do everything well, and the divided life of active clergy and mothering always make me feel like I do nothing as well as I could.  I also hope when they receive a clergy parent, and especially a clergy mother, they will give her the space to occupy both roles in a healthy way. 

The call to be a mother is sacred.  The call to be a pastor is sacred.  I do not feel like the calls compete, despite my choosing to step away from active ministry.  Being a mother made me a better pastor.  My capacity for love grew as my body swelled with my first pregnancy.  I understood more completely God’s unconditional love for us.

Sundays are sacred for Christians, because it is our Sabbath. More than just a rhyme, Sundays are Fun-days. 2020 has changed our Sundays. Since March, most congregations have online worship. Many do not know when they will return to the building. My congregation went to livestream, so each Sunday I still went to church to lead worship. My routine changed considerably. I was able to arrive an hour later, and leave hours earlier. There were none of the typical conversations or check-ins that pastors need to have with people. I was surprised how quickly I adjusted to this new way of church. Watching my Facebook page, reading comments, it really did seem like people were gathered and we were experiencing worship together.

August 9 was my last Sunday at my congregation. Now I don’t know what to do with myself on Sundays. There is no need to wake up early to pray and prepare. Though we have aligned with a new congregation, each week we are choosing where to worship so I can hear different colleagues and see different styles. I preferred a later worship start as pastor; now as someone at home, I want to worship and then move on with my day. Except that I don’t really know what to do with myself. All the extra time on Sunday morning does not feel right.

I hope someday to return to active ministry. What that looks like, time will tell. For now, I will continue to adjust to a new rhythm. I will try to enjoy the slower pace, the lack of obligations, and support my colleagues instead. The focus on my family feels right, and I hope I will eventually settle into our new routine.

Pastor Mother

As I leave the school office to walk to my younger daughter’s classroom, I wonder who else I will get to see.  This school, the closest elementary to my church, is filled with “my” kids.  Not just the two I birthed, but many more from my congregation.  The hallway is crowded, and I see Eleanor.  I wave, and her face lights up as she smiles and waves back.  There is Will.  He is in line and focused like he should be, but as I walk by, I say hi, and he somehow becomes even cuter as he smiles.  Nora probably saw me before I saw her.  She smiles when our eyes meet.  Finally, I arrive at Brynna’s classroom.  There are no other church kids in her class, so now I am fully mother to just her.  When she sees me, she runs over and gives me a big hug, and I am just as thrilled to see her and have her back in my arms.

I tell my husband that I almost feel like a celebrity walking the halls of our school.  Unlike a celebrity, I am seeking certain little faces. When our eyes meet, I try to send as much love in the gaze as possible.  I hope they see nothing but delight on my face when we pass in the hall. 

I think we all need someone to be delighted to see us.  We long to know we are loved.  My call to ministry has always been to share God’s love with everyone, to help them know how completely and unconditionally God loves them.  It is easy to share that love with all “my” kids.  I have watched them grow, baptized them, given them Bibles, and talked about their favorites.  I do love each one of them, more than I can put into words, and I know the capacity for such love comes from God.  As a pastor, I am representing God to them.  I love each one of them unconditionally, and I understand God’s love more and more every day. 

In our baptism, we celebrate that God claims us as beloved children.  When I became a pastor, I gained a new understanding of that love as I loved all “my” kids, who at that time were college students.  No matter where I serve, I cannot help but love the people.  True, some are easier to love than others. 

I hope my young friends who were happy to see their pastor at school, felt the love I sent them.  I hope they equate God with love, as we have tried to teach them.  I hope that my biological children always see delight on my face and know how unconditionally I love them.  Love is powerful, and sharing love is the way I can communicate God’s infinite love with others.   God loves us even more than our mothers do, which as a mother, is incomprehensible. I am at my best when I am loving others and letting them know in my words and actions how much they mean to me. 

This post is part of the book launch blog tour for Embodied: Clergy Women and the Solidarity of a Mothering God. Embodied includes reflection questions at the end of each chapter, to instigate conversations that lead to support and new perspectives. The book is available this September from Bookshop.orgAmazon, or Cokesbury

#embodiedmotheringgod

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