Those moments of questioning (what I do)

I am laughing at myself right now. Really.

It’s a reminder that what anyone is experiencing at any one time is their reality, and their reality is a truth we should not ever attempt to take that away from them or interpret it for them, even in consolation or comfort. Or in simple words, feelings are not good or bad, they simply are — and do not tell me/others how to feel (or a reminder that I cannot tell others how to feel).

The reason I am laughing is because this place is HARD sometimes. Really hard. I don’t think anyone that has not gone through it can understand how intense it is. We often question why we are here even while knowing that this is exactly the time and place we are supposed to be in. We live with that tension daily as we question the wisdom of, in our case, having both parents attend full-time graduate school (plus the extra requirements of seminary); living in community and yet also commuting; stepping away from our at least seemingly safe middle-class existence; and stepping into not merely the constant stress of homework, deadlines and balancing school, family and friends but also the really big questions we encounter daily here. Can we make a confession of faith — really deep and meaningful without stepping at least on the edges of heresy? Any yet how can we explore deeply without touching heresy? (We can’t and we’re not supposed to, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t create tension in many situations.) And more importantly for me — what do those confessions of faith have to do with my life? intersect with my past as well as my present? impact my future — self and ministry?

I am here publicly admitting that today I had a few hours where I seriously wanted with all my being to give up living in that tension. I wanted nothing better to retreat back into a comfortable little hole and find a nice group of agreeable others to live out my life with. Of course in practical terms, I’m committed for the semester (nice how that works, eh). And after a good cry (oh how that works! what a blessing!), I stopped and heard the voice again.

That voice that in my words says to me “stop being selfish; it isn’t all about you; be with my people, the people of God, all people, if you need to be an example of someone going through “hell” than just be it!” (remember this is just a little voice I hear; not claiming any authority — other than to gently push me back where I belong)

Oh, back to why I am laughing at myself. See, how bad can it really be when even in my own personal terms it is not that bad. My own personal comparison is now over ten years ago when my daughter Emily Lin died. Yes, I had lots of bad things happen since then — some extremely dark “hellish” things even and some, like my auto-immune illness, merely challenging bumps on the road because to me everything is in comparison to that day (I have other really glorious days of comparison too), and so compared to the day my daughter died and then weeks and months of darkness that followed (and still at times lingers), I can laugh at today and other days when I question why it is SO hard.

And yet that doesn’t take the difficulty away. It’s still hard. I can’t compare griefs and struggles of others as each moment is valid and real. Today I am reminding myself to be gentle and not compare my own griefs and struggles. And again there is something more (there always is). If it is not about me when it comes to serving the people of God, then is it not about me in multiple other ways too?

We struggle a lot with the problem of pain here (theodicy). It usually isn’t the primary topic, but the underlying background as we discuss a particular theology (at least at this point in our seminary education). For example if one says certain things about creation or a loving God, there is the challenge immediately on how that statement is taken in light of certain situations of pain and suffering — personal or universal. And just to clarify I am not taking on this topic here in this personal reflection post! I am simply admitting that part of me wants to scream out — must it be a problem. Is this our own cultural context getting in the way? I am only asking in the same way I asked questions when my daughter died and continue to ask questions daily. Why must we insist on understanding everything? I like the questions “why?” I think it’s a good question even when there is not an answer.

The sun has come out now, and I have just enough time before my next class for a very short walk and possibly time to finish a bit of the reading for said class (because again it has been one of those days/weeks/months) as I try to balance not merely family and school time, but where I am to fully live out my life as a child of God each moment …

As I walk I will ponder more than a few things, and hopefully many I will continue to share here (for my own reflection purposes if nothing else)

–gratitude for the community that surrounds me in reality and in spirit

–why I do “extra” things that are not required (workshops such as Stephen Ministry & Bridges out of Poverty, hours of work on The Persistent Voice blog, birthday parties, quiet visits with friends, letting my daughter fall asleep on my lap nearly every night while Shawn reads from the Bible, driving 6+ round-trip for my daughter’s band concert, … oh there is a reason and it sustains me)

–What is Diaconal Ministry anyway

–How/Why do I feel called to pastoral care ministry when I do NOT feel called to be a pastor to a church congregation

–Why do I feel so strongly that I must be in the world, ministering to the world, when I want nothing more than to cloister myself? (although I associate that word with monastic communities and the more I learn about them throughout history the more I realize that they were very engaged in the world and in the doing of diaconal ministry … there is something in that for me to reflect on)

–How do I make my other vows (marriage, baptismal) primary while preparing to and then committing to serve both the church and the world?

 

OK, enough for today … anyone that stuck with me to the end is someone I should probably be in conversation with regularly, so leave a comment and let me know your thoughts and questions!

Hospitality: My accidental Spiritual Practice

(Not really an accident of course)

chocolate covered strawberriesI just realized when cooking and baking first started to, very gradually, become a spiritual practice for me. It was nearly a decade ago after my daughter,  Emily Lin, died. Well, it wasn’t immediately afterwards, but rather after I realized how important the food others brought to me during my time of intense grief (seriously people, bring food and lots of it*).

As I forced myself to begin cooking for my family again it was hard, really hard. And then it started getting easier and became a way for me to focus and give rhythm to my day. And then one day I was cooking for someone else in a time of need, and the hours slipped by as mere seconds as I poured every ounce of love and prayer into those meals.  I still cannot describe how it felt to make that difference to another mom, and it became somewhat of a passion for me … however, having guests over for a meal was still something I was terrified of.

I continued to try to have guests over for both simple and elaborate meals (for example Thanksgiving … and once less than two weeks after having my appendix out while pregnant; my husband is a saint) with varying results. I started feeling like a glutton for punishment as I kept feeling called to host events and yet I would have to work through stress and anxiety as I did it.

And then my journey to celiac disease began (severe symptoms undiagnosed for more than “awhile”), and eventually I journeyed into not only the gluten-free world but other food sensitivities as well. Before and during the time of diagnosis, as well as while pregnant, food became the enemy and I retreated to my own defense.

And then I realized I would only eat great food if I made it, and ever so slowly I began to share those foods with others. Almost simultaneously I became part of multiple groups with wonderful hospitality mentors, and I felt the love of sharing meals – meals that *I* could eat too (talk about Christian love!).welcome mat

Shawn and I also realized that it was often much less stressful to host others for dinner than to go out to eat, and looking back now I can see all those dots connecting to prepare me/us. (Shawn is a wonderful host as well, and we’re even starting to work well together in the kitchen at times.)

When we moved to the Wartburg seminary community we knew we would continue to enjoy breaking bread with others in the community – even if it was gluten-free bread. So, we started inviting other families and groups of friends over for dinner, brunch, etc.  In addition to encouraging us to eat very healthy, I now clearly see that my eating restrictions are a part of my call to hospitality – a call that I was initially very reluctant to follow.

And now this Introvert thrives on feeding people and hosting events such as Friday Night Fellowship (otherwise known as Wine Tasting) … and yet I will still maintain I am very much a Mary type rather than a Martha type J

Where is God in all of this? Oh God is wrapped up in every bit of it – from guiding my cooking/baking skills and connecting all those “life dots” the past ten years to ushering the new and old friends through our doors. And oh I can feel the spirit at work when we gather together in community to support and simply love each other. And it is my honor and pure joy to do have a small part in that.

I am just beginning to explore the breadth of intentional (and accidental!) spiritual practices … this entry is really an open journal entry as I brainstorm  —

fresh fall produce

our abundance one week from our CSA while living in La Crosse

How have you practiced or received hospitality? What does it mean to you? Where is God in it? Is it important? Why? 

P.S. Now that we’re living as frugal seminary students, I further ponder how the gift of hospitality is at work. I can no longer buy whatever I want at the grocery store (or farmers’ market), but rather must be very deliberate about planning purchases and meals … hmmm…

 

*This is true after births as well as after deaths. Every set of new parents should have many many meals and snacks provided for them so they can focus on getting to know that brand new human being God created with them!

 

Wholeness Wheel: Life In Process

Last Thursday we had a convocation after Chapel here at Wartburg Seminary. Our focus included looking at the Wholeness Wheel, and discussing how we personally as well as the larger community can work on balancing all aspects of wellness.

The discussion was interesting, and I have been thinking about how to do this without becoming obsessed with “balance” which I have found to be a bit dangerous to my overall health in the past. The following Martin Luther quote shared at the event is something I have been meditating on. I invite you to read and ponder the quote as well, and let me know some of your thoughts.

Martin Luther said:
“This life, therefore, is not godliness but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way. The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the goal but it is the right road. At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed.”

Today, I am using my free hour to ponder, walk, pray, and meditate while I move my body. I am also focussing this week on sleep as a spiritual practice, and will reflect on that here later in the week. I am evolving my thoughts from “what do I need to get done” to “what is the best use of my time” … this time stewardship within the practice of life is very much an evolving practice for me —

How do you steward your time?

What spiritual practices help connect the various parts of your life?