I haven't blogged in a while. I suppose it's due to many reasons. First, many of you know that I relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina at the beginning of April. I got the offer of a lifetime to come down here and do full-time ministry, focusing on the fields of spiritual formation and community outreach--which are two of my favorite things in ministry. I left New York after 8 LONG years of hustling and self-discovery, saying "yes" to God and the unknown yet again. For my final sermon in New York, I preached about God's command to varying groups of people in the book of Genesis to "fill the earth" (Gen 1:28, Gen 9:1, Gen 9:7). I knocked down the Towers of Babel that I'd built over the years and I ventured forth into the mystery.
This journey has been a tumultuous one. It has been one of many ups and downs over the past 18 months. For the most part, I am grateful--grateful for the opportunities that have come my way--for the accolades, for the awards, for the affirmations; and yet, I hold that gratitude alongside many lamentations. I lament the loss of relationships, negotiate fractured friendships, and grieve the divorces that I've had to endure over and over again as I repeatedly, albeit hesatantly, said "yes" to God. There are days when I still don't know if I'm being baptized or if I'm drowning--if the feeling of barely keeping my head above water is due to being "born again" or a sign that I'm in way over my head.
The grief is real. It is a constant journey partner. Every time I think about what I love about ministry, I think about what I've lost because of it. I think about the life partner that walked out on the relationship, the performance career that I chose to step away from, and the holidays that I will continually miss spending with family because somebody gotta minister to the people when Jesus rises from the dead every year. This Damascus road is bumpy. The grief clings to the fabric of your aortic muscles like stubborn pieces of lint on a dark sweater. And yet, many of us who call ourselves "ministers" push through because the "yes" is a seed for things we cannot see--and we trust that the seed will bear fruit that will make God's creation come alive in new ways.
In these moments of lamentation and grief, I like to go to my jar of affirmations. Everybody who engages in a gratitude or affirmation practice does so differently. I like to call my practice "Piling Up"--a stockpiling of all the wonderful things others have said about me over the years, especially related to my ministry. Recently, I received the Karen Ziegler Feminist Preaching Award at my seminary's commencement exercise.
Late in the midnight hours, I've been going to the video and listening to the 15 second clip of the announcer listing off my accomplishments as she prepared to present this award to me. Other times, I dig into my music catalogue and listen to songs I've written and produced, and I reflect on all the wonderful experiences this gift of songwriting has allowed for me. More recently, I've started keeping a folder in my work email of all of the kind words congregants at my new church have written to me since my arrival--
Affirmations about that time I sang at the funeral of an 11-year old girl during my 2nd week on the job
Affirmations about how wonderful my speaking voice is (I get that a lot...I guess all those years of speech coaching for acting and voice lessons paid off)
Affirmations about how my first sermon made someone want to care more about the earth
I pile these up, not to get full of myself or overload my ego, but as a refill of positivity when grief illogically and unexpectedly drains me of all confidence and self-compassion. When I go to my "Pile," I'm reminded that grief does not have the final say over my life. I'm reminded that, as the complexities of life would have it, I can bear both grief and gratitude--love and loss--simultaneously and still have room for hope.
Hope is God's grace in the world.
When we pile up our affirmations, we allow ourselves to have hope.
Will you hope with me?