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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Soul-ar Eclipse

“‘Eclipses mess with your understanding of light and darkness,’ both literally and figuratively, Dr. Perrakis says…The day of the eclipse itself may prove disorienting or overwhelming, but, if you’re willing to step back and experience the event for what it is, it just might give way to a major revelation …” by Sara Coughlin in The Great Solar Eclipse is Upon Us–& This is What It Means for You

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A week ago was solar eclipse day in Georgia. I went to my seminary’s eclipse party more as a matter of course, than out of genuine excitement. I just didn’t get the hype.

Then I put on those eclipse glasses and looked up. I grinned. I laughed. I delighted in what I saw.

I marveled at the sun’s and moon’s positions; how much the sun looked like the moon and vice versa. What should be opposites were suddenly exacts.  The sun waned as the moon moved fully into view, yet I could look at the sun clearly for the very first time. It shone with promise.

In the days that followed, it’s as if the solar eclipse caused a “soul”ar eclipse. Pieces of me that I didn’t know existed, and pieces I had long ago forgotten, were revealed. Clandestine longings and hopes passed in front me, like a full moon who only weeks before had been a remote and far-off sliver of possibility. Powerful and confusing feelings encircled me. I longed to know the contours of the form passing so closely in front of my soul’s hollow recesses. But it eluded my grasp, like chocolate that goes untasted.  As I bit my lip in frustration, out of my soul’s inner depths shone bright light. In this light I unexpectedly was seen. This light was me, ripe fruit in hand, poised to offer its sweet nectar to the world.

One week later I am changed. I value myself differently. Self-care habits I have neglected and lamented are part of my routine again. My call, my sense of belonging at Columbia Seminary, my denomination, all the things I questioned so fiercely the past year, no longer rear their heads in consternation. I am braver. I am looking hard truths squarely in the face. I prepare to take the first steps towards greater honesty in my closest relationships.

For having had little personal interest in the eclipse, I now reflect in awe. My mind wanders along a north south axis, anticipating when moon and sun align again.

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“During eclipses, we are asked to understand where in our lives we feel eclipsed. What issues we are harboring that tend to eclipse our ability to heal. What wounds rob us of joy and connection. So that we can bring a little bit more awareness to the work we need to do. So that we can be better agents in the process of the world’s healing. So that we can be better agents in our own healing. ” by Chani Nicholas in Your Affirmation Horoscopes for the Total Solar Eclipse.

Introducing…me.

 “Write to find out your name and who you are.”
–Marlena Graves

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My blog, Writing True North, helped me make sense of how I ended up where I was and where I might go in the future. I will always be “Writing My Way to the Authentic,” but in some ways, writing my way there was a personal thing. I created the blog before I understood why I write, for whom I write, and what the responsibility of having an audience entails.

“You are not just one name. Many names make an identity.”  –Sandy Sasso

I created my blog, RevDrMom, when I thought I had myself and my future all figured out. I thought the identity crisis between my roles as pastor and writer was resolved. And then I entered seminary and I was more confused than ever.

 “As a writer, do not make up your mind that you are only one thing.” —Gertrude Stein

Now I’m faced with a choice. Which blog? Do I blog at all? Where do I talk about writing? Ministry? What do I do when they overlap? What if I don’t end being what I think I’m going to be?

“Write and offer your gift to the world.” –Marlena Graves

I’ve discovered there are many things that make me who I am. Writing allows me to stretch my understanding of myself and others. It allows freedom where I otherwise may feel boxed in. I read some of my early writing and blush with embarrassment. So much of it seems clunky, obtuse, and raw. Despite this, along the way people reached out and said that my writing meant something to them.

There are several bloggers who speak to my life. I can only hope I may do the same for others.  So, despite my past inconsistency blogging, I’m going to continue.  But this time, I’m not trying to write into only one identity. I’m retiring Writing True North and Rev Dr. Mom. I’m just going to be me, a writer with a free spirit and affection for taking the unconventional path. I hope you’ll join me for the journey here at theamandaedwards.com. Sign up to receive email notifications of new posts–it will make it easy to sojourn with me! Thank you for your dedication and following.

–Amanda

Journey Revisited–The Still: Fall 2016 Edition

(formerly published on one of my retired blogs)

The small moments, great reads, and experiences on the journey…. 


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ITINERARY

Semester 1 2016:

  • Intro to Practical Theology
  • Intro to Old Testament I
  • Introductory Biblical Hebrew
  • Imagination and Resilience for God’s Changing World
  • Scripture Reading Practicum

January Term 2017:

  • Postmodernism and Why It Matters to Preaching

GETTING READY

I drew the line between the before and after, an inky delineation down the middle of my narrative. Still-tender shoots of writer-self on one side, seeds of pastor-self on the other.  I laid down my pen.

TRAVEL PLANS

What I thought would happen:

  • My call would only become clearer
  • I’d question my beliefs
  • My marriage would be tested
  • I would not like Scripture Reading Practicum (the practice of interpreting Scripture orally)

TRAVEL PLANS REVISED

What actually happened:

  • I questioned my call altogether
  • My beliefs were affirmed and expanded
  • My hubby and I are in a groove!
  • Scripture Reading Practicum was the reason I didn’t quit seminary

PIT STOP:

Where: Write-In at The Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, GA, October 2016 (an integrative exercise of writing and activism, the first in Columbia Seminary’s Cultivating Courageous Communicators series)

Take-Aways: The power of the written word to affect change spoke loudly in a silent exhibit of letters and other correspondence written between Dr. King and other peacemakers “behind-the-scenes” during the civil rights movement. Change did not toll from one cacophonous bell of collective protest, but from the persistent chimes of individuals wielding small but mighty mallets of justice. Little things=big things.

BEST READS ON THE JOURNEY:

Forever changed how I look at death, resurrection, and atonement

  • “Prayer for the Impossible,” in  What Would Jesus De-Construct? by James K.A. Smith

Now I get why I pray in Jesus’ name

  • Christian Prayer for Today, by Martha Moore-Keish

A beautiful call to action and work of hope and possibility:

  • “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On women’s writing and subversion of male dominated systems. Gorgeous poetic language. An anecdote for the Trump era. A gift that keeps on giving.

  • “The Laugh of the Medusa”, essay by Hélène Cixous

ROAD BUMPS

On the hard stuff: Before my depression was diagnosed and managed, parenting sucked. I wrote a piece about it. People who read it in its original form either loved it (they could identify) or hated it (they couldn’t identify). Both reactions were strong. My feelings didn’t scare me, but it scared me that my writing could make people uncomfortable. I polished the raw out of it. A member of my writer’s group recommended I revisit it at some point. The time for that has come.

On optimism: In my PCUSA tradition people pursuing a call to ministry undergo a battery of psychological testing to identify areas of potential strength and weakness well before you move on through the process to ordination. I did this during this past summer. Not surprisingly, I’m an optimist! As with anything, taken to an extreme, optimism can be negative. Since my results came back, several people made some assumptions that don’t ring true with how I feel, process, and share the hard stuff. This experience forced me to examine my optimism critically. Interestingly, others sometimes are rattled by things relatively low on my “hard feelings” meter and skate over others I’d rate as more critical in the “hard things” rink. A Letter to a Pessimist from an Optimist is in the works.

On failure: Never have I earned a B-, let alone been overjoyed about it. Oh, Hebrew. Oh, first semester. Everyone told me how good it is for me to experience failure. I have some things to say about that, about when failure slides the slippery slope from an earned measure of aptitude to an arbitrary construct where an idealized rite of passage reigns supreme. I have some things to say about making failure a goal, and its potential implications for one who will pastor people for whom passing or failing a class is a cake walk compared to the hard stuff they face every day.

SCENIC DIVERSIONS:

Binge-watched the first season of Designated Survivor with my mom and I finished Parenthood. My husband and I finished The Good Wife (what a disappointing series finale!). Movies Stork and Trolls good wholesome fun with kids. Lion the best kind of thinker movie I love.

DETOUR

Destination: 2016 Writer’s Colloquium at Earlham School of Religion, Richmond, IN

Highlight: Writer Marlena Graves spilled water on my manuscript. That inky line down the middle bled all directions, blurring the “before” and “after”, the “was” and “to be”, the “done” and “to do”, the “writer” and the “pastor”. The burgeoning mark of the now, the is, the doing, the preacher in all its vibrant multiplicity stares back, ready for me to pick up my pen and turn the page.

A NEW YEAR’S LAYOVER

Celebration: The “First” of my first year in seminary is over. The “First” chiseled my intentions and attention into pointed focus. The “First” whittled away layers of stagnation and preoccupation.  The “First” revealed potential.

Found in my dirty laundry: Excess. Too much eating out, too much diet pop, too little quality interactions with family.  Hoping 2nd Semester has a laundromat.

Best thing I DIDN’T do to pass the time: Installing Facebook on my new phone.

Best Luggage Tag Logo:  STEWARDSHIP. This is so going to be my word of the year. Stewardship of mind, body, and resources or bust, baby!

SIGHT-SEEING NOW!

Post-modernism philosophy. Absolutely breathtaking and life-giving for tumultuous times. So many allusions to the Christian narrative. It is rocking my world. Hélène Cixous is my travel companion from now on.

SOUVENIRS:

Written on my faith statement paper in the class Imagination and Resilience:

“You”ll probably have to make some substantial changes (and, sadly, be less creative) to get through the ordination process.”

A favorite quote from the book What Would Jesus De-Construct? by James K.A. Smith:

“When is faith really faith? Not when it is looking more and more like we are right, but when the situation is beginning to look impossible, in the darkest night of the soul. The more credible things are, the less faith is needed, but the more incredible things seem, the more faith is required, the faith that is said to move mountains.”

A conversation:

OTHERS (WITH COMPASSION) “It’s okay to admit you’re struggling. We’ll support you, that’s what we’re here for.”

AMANDA: Shares struggles.

OTHERS (WITH PANIC): You do know that will happen as a pastor. How do you plan to handle that!

A conversation about my background and maybe returning to camp someday:

LISTENER: So how does one with a heart for Quakers and who considers a Unitarian Universalist camp for her kids end up Presbyterian? Isn’t there something in between?

ME: That is the million dollar question.

From my new travel companion, Hélène:

“I, too, overflow; my desires have invented new desires, my body knows unheard-of songs. Time and again I, too, have felt so full of luminous torrents that I could burst-burst with forms much more beautiful than those which are put up in frames and sold for a fortune. And I, too, said nothing, showed nothing; I didn’t open my mouth, I didn’t repaint my half of the world. I was ashamed. I was afraid, and I swallowed my shame and my fear. I said to myself: You are mad! What’s the meaning of these waves, these floods, these outbursts? Where is the ebullient infinite woman who…hasn’t been ashamed of her strength? Who, surprised and horrified by the fantastic tumult of her drives (for she was made to believe that a well-adjusted normal woman has a …divine composure), hasn’t accused herself of being a monster? Who, feeling a funny desire stirring inside her (to sing, to write, to dare to speak, in short, to bring out something new), hasn’t thought that she was sick? Well, her shameful sickness is that she resists death, that she makes trouble.”  Hélène Cixous, The Laugh of the Medusa

A hopeful reminder:

 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.   –NRSV 1 Cor 13:12