The Still: Summer 2017 Edition

Small moments, great reads, and faith on the journey.

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SUMMER VACATION!!!!

Itinerary
Georgia Fun

  • Kids on swim team
  • A few days exploring Savannah, GA

Up North

  • Road trip to northern WI
  • 6 weeks in the Northwoods
  • Road trip home from northern WI

Home to Georgia

  • Kids returned to school, I worked in Office of Student Life and Formation at Columbia Seminary

Travel Plans
What I thought would happen:

  • We’d visit Iowa
  • I wouldn’t want to go back to GA
  • I wouldn’t think about school
  • I’d prepare to worship at the Episcopal Church in Atlanta where I worshipped this spring and loved

Travel Plans Revised
What actually happened:

  • Wisconsin or bust
  • I was ready to head home from WI about a week before our departure.
  • I spent an inordinate amount of time making course schedule considerations and mapping out what life could look like this semester
  • I applied for and accepted a position as a Sunday School teacher at a Presbyterian Church in Atlanta

Homesick Already?
As often as I long for the life I left behind in Iowa, and the way the sunrise warmed the front porch of the house I loved, or how the grassy, humid fragrance rolled from nearby fields along my suburban street, my longing is fleeting. Surprisingly I don’t miss Iowa like I thought I would. What made Iowa home for me was family. Since my family spends the summer in Wisconsin, to Wisconsin we went.

I startled awake one late July morning in Wisconsin with a severe bout of homesickness. Not for Iowa, but for Georgia. Were it not for my kids’ last art and nature classes the following week I would have packed up and headed south then. I wrestled and played with this unexpected feeling. This longing for a place that is still so new confounded me. What was different?

Last summer the unknown of starting seminary loomed and the anxiety of moving into a new home mounted. Last summer was a prelude to new things—a life in my imagination, not reality.

This summer was different. I knew where I was headed. I knew the neighbors that would greet me, which steps would creak as I hauled our luggage inside, which flowers I’d cut first and put in a vase. I knew the rigor that awaited at seminary, but this time also knew the names of people I can count on.

I was ready to return home.

Saying Goodbye
Seminary is a process of reshaping who you were and molding it into who you are called to be. This process produces excess clay. Letting go of even little pieces can be hard. I let go of several things this summer.

Ever since my oldest child was in the NICU and we stayed at Ronald McDonald House, I’ve been saving pop tabs. Diligently washing out cans, spinning the tabs until they break free, adding them to the jar for Ronald McDonald House Charities who gets money for each one. That’s right, almost twelve years later I still drop them into a jar. The same jar. The same one jar. Almost twelve years later. But not anymore.

Same thing goes for Box Tops. No more cutting out stiff cardboard rectangles on the back of cereal boxes. No having to remember to trim them and turn them into my kids’ school only during the exact right two-week window each year.

I’m letting go, knowing I will give back, and okay that it might look different than jars of metal and baggies of cardboard.

Sometimes letting go means big things. Witnessing a dear friend’s ordination at the end of summer, trusting that God holds this person on the new journey ahead. Being aware of the emptiness on campus without the presence of last year’s seniors you didn’t realize you looked up to so much. Feeling reluctant to let the new students’ energy and enthusiasm soothe the void.

Best Reads for the Journey:
How to Raise Monarch Butterflies: A Step-by-Step Guide for Kids (How It Works) by Carol Pasternak
Get this for the kids (and adults) in your life.

Urban Jungle: Living and Styling with Plants
The book itself is a piece of art. But not pretentious. Practical with unusual flavor influenced by its non-American contributors.

Essence Magazine
Expands my cultural lens and framework.

The Crisis Magazine
Deep, thorough coverage of racial and justice issues that matter, written from a non-white perspective. Should be required reading for whites.

anything by Lianne Moriarty
My new favorite author! Complex plots, fascinating characterizations.

Zen Garden by David Holzer
A beautiful little book. I now have a vision for my backyard.

Any and all interior design mags
Summer is when I get my creative fix.

Best Moment on the Journey—The Eclipse:
Normally it’s the Perseid Meteor Shower on my mind in August. Not this year. Still, I was not prepared for the eclipse. I was not prepared that it would coincide with a soular eclipse. Read about it here.

Souvenirs:
Normally my souvenirs are words. Quotes that spoke to me. But summer is different. It is blissful and beautiful in its own unique way. So instead I offer a list of gratitude for all the blissful and beautiful people, places, and experiences this summer. I am thankful for:

  • Last day of school Nerf gun battle with our first friends in GA—now an annual tradition
  • Coach Beth and the TigerSharks swim team
  • Swimming in the neighborhood pool and in the lake Up North
  • Container ships, a war reenactment, awesome hotel, and bus transporation in Savannah
  • A belated birthday party for all 3 kids at the pool. This may become a tradition.
  • Good neighbors
  • Black-eyed Susans from good neighbors that bloom like there is no tomorrow
  • Houseguests that remind us of just starting out and make us laugh
  • Gardening in containers
  • Lake Superior
  • Emory Presbyterian Church
  • Long walks and lake play with Murphy and Luna
  • My husband getting out the sailboat
  • Sailing for the first time in a decade+
  • Successfully tacking into a strong wind
  • The dream of “my” little cabin down the way
  • Needing to (getting to) wear stocking caps in July
  • Art teachers like Peggy Grinvalsky
  • Uncle Bruce’s cabin and homestead  (and Uncle Bruce himself)
  • Dixie’s Coffee House in Manitowish Waters
  • Introducing my oldest daughter to Dixie’s Coffee House
  • Camping out with my kids
  • Boating with my best friend
  • Working with a dynamic, diverse group of individuals in the Office of Student Life and Formation
  • New friends from this work
  • Ordinations
  • Participation in discussions and presence at talks about racial justice and reconcilation
  • Deep connection with a friend in ministry
  • Pastors and accountability partners
  • My mom
  • This blog and finally seeing how I might merge my pastoral and writer selves

Destination UnKnown
Most of time I find following call to be a wrestling match, the ultimate push and pull with God in trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do instead of what I think I want to do. But sometimes… sometimes you just know. Sometimes God’s voice speaks clear as day when you least expect it.

I’ve struggled with my call and denominational identity way more than I’d like to admit in seminary. It wasn’t until this spring when I starting living into my identity as a child of God first, that the stress of where I belong dissipated. This release of pressure created an opening for God to speak. It came in the form of a job description for a position I wasn’t looking for. Sunday School Teacher. At a Presbyterian church. The description of what they were looking for had enough whimsy to it that I knew my out-of-box, creative approach might actually be welcomed.

After I’d already committed a year of Sunday mornings to this church and the children, because I just knew it was right, I attended for the first time. And I knew again. This small, quirky church in Atlanta with a gracious heart in the midst of big transitions, is exactly where I am supposed to be.

There is still mystery. Is this God’s declaration of my ultimate denominational identity? Will this be my family’s church home for the duration of my seminary career? I don’t know. But I’m sure that God spoke, I listened, and I’m in exactly the right spot…for now.

Please prepare for landing:

“Everyone had to grow into themselves before they could offer anything.” –Susan Branch in Martha’s Vineyard: Isle of Dreams

I still have a lot of growing to do. But, as summer came to an end, I released my adolescent-like angst that erodes my trust in the God who leads me on a mysterious journey. I trust I’m going in the right direction, even when the landing is bumpy.

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The Still: Spring 2017 Edition

The fall semester is just around the corner. I’m on campus now preparing to welcome the new incoming class to Columbia next week. Before the new eclipses the old, here’s a recap of last semester.

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 The Still: Spring 2017 Edition

Small moments, great reads, and faith on the journey…

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Think Spring

Christmas vacation in Florida gave me time to regroup from my first semester at Columbia Theological Seminary. I was so numb, dumbfounded, tired, and unsure after first semester, I don’t really remember much from the vacation. I think I just buried my head in the sand at the beach and tried to forget. I came back and did a January term class and loved it. Things were looking up for spring semester.

 Seminary Itinerary

Spring Semester 2017 at Columbia Theological Seminary:

  • Intro to Christian Worship
  • Intro to Old Testament II
  • Preaching and Proclamation

Spring Semester 2017 at Earlham School of Religion (ESR):

  • Writing for God and God’s People

Travel Plans

What I thought would happen:

  • 2nd Semester would be easier than 1st
  • I could manage 4 classes since I wasn’t taking Hebrew
  • I wouldn’t think about quitting seminary anymore
  • I’d settle on a church home

Travel Plans Revised

What actually happened:

  • 2nd Semester was just as hard
  • 3 classes is more realistic for this wife and mom of 3
  • I wanted to quit and write full-time
  • Maybe I’m Episcopal?

Mode of Travel—Car:

I thought when I started seminary that I could just go back to being a student again like when I was in college. I told myself if I could juggle all the responsibilities of part-time work and motherhood at the whims of everyone but myself, certainly I could handle school again, especially with all three of my kids finally in school themselves.

I’ve heard it said that a car is the safest place in a storm. My first year of seminary was a perfect storm of my weaknesses colliding with accountability and expectation the likes of which I hadn’t seen for a long time. In the chaos, my car represented what I craved. My hybrid was a compact and ordered bubble. It muffled distractions and kept me within reach of sunlight’s touch. If necessary, it promised a quick getaway. And when I was ready to face the to-dos outside my teal LL Bean backpack from 1995 on the passenger seat, all I had to do was open the door.

It started as a way to warm up after Monday Scripture Reading Practicums on early, crisp fall mornings. I’d bolt to my car and crank up my heated seat. Not wanting to venture out until I had to, I stayed put and studied Hebrew vocabulary. I looked forward to my quiet bubble of calm. Eventually, I found myself other days using my car as my office. But still I struggled.

I thought it was an issue of discipline, because it was clear first semester that I hadn’t practiced that for awhile. But even in 2nd semester, Hebrew behind me, my newly polished discipline skills back in use, I struggled in ways that went beyond how I saw other first year students struggling.

My car wasn’t safe enough. So I cashed in my trip insurance.

Trip Insurance:

Shifting in my hard plastic chair in a gray-green exam room looking sheepishly at my doctor, cashing in my trip insurance sounded like this:

Me: “You know a few months ago when you asked if I was ever assessed for ADHD and I laughed at you? Well, IF I were to check into this, what would that entail?” (Because come on, I was about to turn 40! Wouldn’t I know this by now?!)

It’s taken almost six months since then to see this process through to get answers and workable interventions, and to figure out how this interacts with my anxiety/depression. I’m still wrapping my mind around those letters, ADHD, and coming to grips with what they mean for my future and me.

 Pit Stop:

Where: Elijay, GA. I hosted a weekend retreat in celebration of my 40th birthday. I invited my dearest friends. Each person became my friend at a different life stage or around a different interest. As a result, my friends are all remarkably unique. Very few knew each other. I thought it would be fun to see what would happen if they all were together. I designed the weekend so they felt a little pampered: we stayed at a finely appointed Airbnb in a rustic setting with beautiful views, good food/drinks, opportunities for relaxation and fun. I was nervous. What if they all just sat and stared uncomfortably at each other?

Take-Aways: Oh my gosh. It was amazing. As uniquely challenging as it is to make close friends as an adult, this is proof that as you age, the easier it gets to connect around the things that may have divided us as eager twenty-somethings. Or, I just have awesome friends. Actually, I think both are true. I also wonder if I have a future in the women’s retreat business.

Best Reads for the Journey

The Journey by Mary Oliver     This is the poem that kept me moving forward, and the one that keeps me dancing to the beat of my own drummer. That line, “The only life I can save…” goes straight to my heart every time.

Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood Through Adulthood by Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey      Read it and understand. 

Martha’s Vineyard: Isle of Dreams by Susan Branch     Branch is a girl after my own heart. Lives in a cabin in the woods, a writer, she was unsure of self at midlife and had to learn not to wrap her identity in her spouse’s. She’s an avid quote collector. Reminded me how much I need writing and deep prayer for my spiritual and creative health. Her accompanying art has a folksy quality that isn’t really my taste, but her writing is fresh and timeless.

Along with Susan Branch, authors Brian Doyle and Barbara Brown Taylor have helped my vision for myself as a writer take shape.

Trip Highlight

Clubbing (first time ever!) in downtown Atlanta and ubering (first time ever!) with my 20-something-year-old seminary friends.

Best Trip Guide

Google search: “40-year-old mom goes clubbing clothes”

Most Worthwhile Side Trip

Subscribing to spring season of the Atlanta Ballet (student discounts, y’all)!!! This rocked my world and blew apart my preconceived notions about this dance form. Add watching an Atlanta Ballet Co. rehearsal to my bucket list. I love to see how artists hone their craft.

Favorite Places

Aside from the nighttime view of the Atlanta cityscape, favorite places in our new home include Piedmont Park (a nature oasis in the city, awesome dog park) and Stone Mountain Park (so many trails—it’s not just about the summit).

 Traffic Jam

Since our move to Decatur in 2015, my family hasn’t settled on a church home. Somewhere along the way I started wondering if I’m really Presbyterian. After all, Catholics, Unitarians, Quakers, Evangelicals, and most recently Episcopals have all been part of my journey. My first year of seminary heightened my constant struggle of

  • not wanting to peg myself with a label, but wanting to belong to a community
  • not wanting to fit the mold, but wanting the security of tradition
  • not wanting to do what my parents did but wanting to trust their wisdom

This struggle pits my steadfast belief that God’s vision dazzles with diversity with my fear that aligning myself in one denomination will make this vision less likely to be realized (as if I have that much control!).

My Intro to Worship class got me thinking about why I worship. I realized I needed to stop getting hung up on denomination. Whatever church or denomination I’m part of, that’s not the ultimate source of my identity. The more relevant question might just be WHOSE I am and what it means to live into the answer.

Not entirely surprising, this change of mindset took a weight off my shoulders. I think God breathed a sigh of relief, too, as I’m now trusting God will lead me where I need to be.

 Unexpected Detour

In one of my first semester classes my small group did a project at Threshold Ministry serving people who face issues of poverty and homelessness. I didn’t want to do the project there. I wanted to work with a “flashier” ministry more in my comfort zone. But that’s not how it worked out. And I was really intrigued by what I heard and saw. I kept thinking about it. And the more I learned about my faith in seminary, the less I felt I can serve the “least” of these without ever developing relationships with the people who have this label. Thanks to the enthusiasm and willingness of my friend Rachel by my side, I volunteered. I am changed, and my outlook on ministry fundamentally changed. There are so many thoughts I have about this but they are still in the infant stage. Stay tuned.

 Souvenirs

New hashtag created by my husband after he thought I’d turned our home into a hostel this summer #lifewithamanda
I say, if you have the room and ability to host several seminary graduates in transition awaiting calls, #WWJD

Said by my 11-year-old daughter when returning to a Presbyterian church to hear my friend preach: “I thought we were Episcopal now.”

Overheard in my worship class by a future pastor:
“I’m not much of church person, actually.”

Me in my journal:
What is it about me that wants to challenge everything?!

 

 Are we there yet?

I had to laugh when I read Clementine’s words in Truly Madly Guilty by Lianne Moriarty this spring: “Everyone had another sort of life up their sleeve that might have made them happy.”

Because all school year I really wanted to quit. And write full-time. Or just be a mom. Or something.

But I had wanted this for so long, hadn’t I?

Yes. And I still do. But now I really know how much. So the time has come to focus on the life I have so I don’t need a second one up my sleeve.

 Homeward Bound

“There’s always pain when a child is born.” —Marlena Graves

This has not been an easy first year of seminary. At its conclusion, I know I’m meant to be here, but I’m much less sure about what exactly I am birthing during these contractions of mind, body, and soul. For now, I breathe, before labor begins again.