Motivation: #Walk2EndAlz

This year’s walking crew representing JSSA Hospice staff, volunteers and families. We’re missing a few faces in this picture, but THANKS to everyone who participated! 

I participated in my fourth Alzheimer’s Walk today. I almost didn’t go because I have a banged up knee that is not responding to the current treatment plan of exercise/rest/ice/meds/ignore/repeat. (Yes. I’m going to the doctor next week.) I went anyway because it’s a great time with my colleagues. It’s impressive to see the size of the crowd that shows up on the National Mall. It reminds me how devastating this disease is, and how many are affected. Today I noted that there were healthcare providers like our hospice, facility staff members, family members and… patients.

This year, there were residents of an dementia unit participating in the mini-walk. One woman was carrying her baby doll, her caregivers beside her. A man was determinedly trudging down the sidewalk using his walker. Countless others were pushed in wheelchairs.

You can bet I sucked it up and walked. I walked for my patients and their caregivers. I walked for the families who have had a relative die due to complications of Alzheimer’s. I walked for my coworkers who go above and beyond every day.

I also walked because our healthcare system is inadequate and puts an undue burden on families of patients with this disease. It was ironic to be in sight of the US Capitol building, where attacks on affordable healthcare and cuts to Medicare and Medicaid are on the agenda. But I am privy to the day-to-day heartache of watching their family member lose capacity, forgetting faces and names. I hear their concerns about “running out of money” because of the costs involved (which are not reimbursed!) I walked to honor the lives of my patients.

It’s simple. Research dollars help find treatments and a cure. Donations support caregivers and provide needed resources. And staff members and volunteers are reminded that their work with dementia patients and their families makes a difference.

So thank you to all who were among my sponsors. Thank you to the families and patients I represent. Thank you to my coworkers. Let’s keep walking.

P.S. it’s not necessary but you can still donate here!

Ally in motion

It is a long night in Terminal C tonight. Once the airline’s gate agent announced a 2+ hour delay, many of the ticketed passengers either bailed to another flight, or went to find a place to eat dinner. I found a quiet corner, plugged in my headphones and started reading.

I looked up at one point, and seated across from me were two lovely black women. We made eye contact and smiled, and I was about to resume reading when I realized they were talking to me. I unplugged and we started chatting.

“We couldn’t help but notice… your buttons…”

From that cautious statement, the conversation flowed. Where we were traveling, who we were seeing, what we do for a living, how we hated fight delays… and then one of the woman said haltingly, “My dad has cancer. He didn’t come to our wedding… and now he’s in hospice.”

And suddenly, my worlds as an ally and a hospice chaplain collided. It’s the sad, familiar, heartbreaking story I’ve heard over and over… Finding the love of your life. Losing your faith community. Facing your family’s disapproval. My heart broke a little more with each word of their story.

We prayed. There were tears. And while there wasn’t much I could say to help them see their way forward, we parted ways with a little more hope quietly shining in a rainy corner of the world.

That’s really all we’re asked to do, you know. Give a little encouragement and BE the Love, BeLoved.

I will choose to Love

In the never-ending pile of books in my “to be read” pile, I came across a quote recently that spoke volumes to the way I want to live my life. In reading A Testament of Hope, a collection of essays, sermons and speeches by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I found these words:

Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it.
Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it.
Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it. 

(I now need to find my copy of this book so that I can properly cite the page, etc.)

In the divisive, winner-take-all mindset of our culture, choosing to listen and demonstrate compassion and love is, well, hard.

But why is it so hard for me to love others as a white woman, cisgender, educated, employed and (relatively) healthy? Why do I find myself struggling to be compassionate when I am hurt by someone’s words or actions? The list of reasons are many, and every one of them is selfish.

My Calling is clear – to demonstrate the welcoming, all-encompassing love of God. No strings. No qualifications. I will choose to Love.

Love Is from Freebridge Media on Vimeo.

 

Self-care (A review for the stubborn one)

I am learning how badly I am following my own teaching on “self care.” I wrote recently about a bad fall that I had on our patio, which left me bruised and with a swollen and painful knee. While I did follow basic first aid practices (ice, rest, elevation, anti-inflammatories), I did not take any time off from work. I soldiered through the week. I limped around. I dealt with joint pain and referred pain from limping.

I am stubborn.

In addition, there have been some intense situations (unrelated to family and friends) which have also taken a lot of my emotional and spiritual energy. It’s not just the news and following a hurricane, it’s the little nasty micro-aggressions. The insulting emails. All of my usual self care strategies weren’t working and I couldn’t turn “off” my reactions. My coping mechanism of choice was to veg on the couch. Not very productive nor self-restoring.

Fortunately, this week I had a long chat with my spiritual director who reminded me of the song by Rabbi Sofer and Rev. Carolyn McDade: (words found here)

No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.

At first, it didn’t set well with me. Isn’t that contrary to the expectations of a pastor to serve others? What about Philippians 2 where we are reminded to  “…look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others”? What about Luke 9 where we are exhorted by Jesus, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me”?

Balance. It’s about balance!

YES.  I am called to serve sacrificially. Every penny I make is not to be spent on myself. All of my time and talents are not for my own pleasure. But neither are they all to be given away and not meet the needs of those who depend on me. If I deplete myself on other tasks and obligations, and am not aware of my own emotional and physical exhaustion, how can I then look out for others’ interests?

Short answer: I can’t!

No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.

Time after time, I have encouraged parents of young children to take time to refresh themselves emotionally, spiritually and physically. I have exhorted them to trade off on childcare and household chores, and if one parent is at home, have made the point that the stay-at-home parent is not the other’s personal servant. [Translation: pick up your own dirty clothes, do loads of laundry, wash dishes, take the kids and care for them. Because you both have “evening shift” responsibilities when the “day shift” is done!]

Yet I find myself, an empty nester, worn out and hard-pressed to respond to the things I need to do for my own health. Simple things like creating things with my hands, reading, baking, or enjoying nature. It didn’t help that we’ve had heavy rains all week so I couldn’t really get outside. But I wasn’t cultivating anything on the inside.

No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.

Why was I stuck in some self-destructive patterns? I asked myself some hard questions, and maybe they will be helpful for you:

  • what am I doing that is not really my responsibility to do?
  • who am I trying to please (besides God?)
  • who is draining my spirits rather than building them back up?
  • where am I spending my time that is not the best use of my God-given gifts?
  • what activities would help renew my love and compassion for others?
  • what excuses am I giving to avoid tasks I need to do?

It’s a process. It’s an ongoing challenge to balance my desire to be God’s person vs pleasing all people. It’s allowing God to work within my brokenness, rather than going to pieces trying to fix it all myself. And it’s recognizing when I am beyond my threshold and need to simply… rest.

Serve God? Serve others?

Absolutely!! But only within the limits of my own brokenness. Let’s repeat that phrase one more time:

No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.

image: Serve within the limits of your brokenness
image (c) Rev. Deb Vaughn; may use with permission

What cometh before a fall?

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

So says the writer of Proverbs, anyway. (16:18 if you’re playing along for points.)

This evening just before things were completely dark outside, I heard our wind chimes singing mightily in the back yard. I rushed out the back door, grateful the rain had stopped, if only for a moment or two. The chimes were glorious and a fitting “Amen” to a weekend of rain and wind. And then… I hit a slick spot on the slate pavers on our patio and went DOWN in a glorious splat.

Yes. Ow. Very much ow.

IMG_4914I sat there for a moment, the wind knocked out of me, in pain. Nothing appeared broken. The only thing sprained is my dignity (even though no one was there to see my acrobatics, I did have to text my beloved to come and help me stand up, as I was shocked and wobbly.) I left a large dry spot on the slate approximately the size of my backside, and a lovely mossy skid mark on my jeans.

The Proverbs quote came to mind. I don’t believe it was a haughty spirit that caused my butt-first landing. I thought wryly to myself that actually, in this case, inattention came before the fall. Or maybe it was rushing. Or perhaps multi-tasking.

Sometimes stuff just happens. This wasn’t out of meanness. It wasn’t to teach me some cosmic lesson. It was just the cumulative effect of six inches of rain in 3 days on a slate patio.

My pants will wash and I imagine any bruises I’ve collected will fade in a week or two. At the moment, I’m headed for the couch with an ice pack and an afghan and maybe some crocheting. It’s not been the best of weeks, to be honest. But not the worst, either. I’m grateful for friends, for family, for a steadying hand when I need it the most.

Whatever has caused you to fall flat today, may you leave the buttprints behind, and know that the universe is not conspiring against you, either.

A heart song that has been speaking to me this week is this song “You Say” by Lauren Daigle. May it encourage you.

Cleaning and rebooting

IMG_48334 boxes of books
3 bags of recycling
2 bags of shredding
1 (almost) clean office

(Sorry. No partridge or pear tree! But I do have a very friendly cat.)

In their early school years, we would have a “clean out my desk” day with the kids. It seemed like a good time to get back in that habit myself, even though there’s no one living here going back-to-school tomorrow. (We do have teachers in our family, but they are all out-of-state.)

I was also inspired to do some cleaning of my home office because it will have to absorb everything from my office space at church. I really needed to think about books, equipment, supplies and storage reorganization. Some items I had absolutely no problem putting into the discard pile. Some items I couldn’t wait to shred. And some gave me pause as I thought about an event, feeling, or person that they brought to mind.

I was pretty ruthless. Seminary papers? Recycle! Textbooks and manuals that are out-of-date? Recycle! Old OPM paperwork? Shred! Journal articles, old bulletins, church-specific materials? Recycle! Scholastic book about cats? Donate! Folders of schoolwork from our daughters? HA! Give them the stuff and let THEM sort it. 

I was making great progress until I came across some painful memories from a previous  employer. Years ago, I had written on it “demon folder” as a warning that the contents might be toxic and even traumatic. For some reason, I wasn’t able or ready to let go of those papers. But it seemed right to do it today.

Stopping to regroup, I sat for a while and processed the very real feelings of hurt, of disappointment and disillusionment. It still sucks. And in one of those very opportune moments of the Divine, a song popped up on my playlist:

Because there had been enough distance, it wasn’t as difficult as I feared. Some therapeutic shredding helped, as did a handy box of tissues. I realized how much I’ve grown past that period in my life. God is gracious.

I’m not quite done with my office clean-up, but I’ve made progress. There’s a flat surface to use my laptop, and even a space to spread out papers. The charging station for my hand-held devices is where I can reach it! (Shocker.) I found a quote or two that I’ve tucked under my desk blotter for encouragement.

I guarantee you a week from now, it won’t look this nice! But I won’t miss those shredded papers and forgiven memories.

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A heart to heart talk

2hands

I asked my patient,
“How are you, my friend?”
As his tired hand rested in mine.
We have a history of many visits,
Many hours,
Many thoughtful words…

“I’m dying, you know,” he said softly,
His voice rough with the years
Of hard work and prayer.
“But it’s Ok. It’s Ok.”

We sat in a quiet and friendly silence
As we listened to the birds outside,
The hum of the electric fan oscillating back and forth
In a buzzy counterpoint.

I hummed a quiet hymn or two,
Letting my voice wrap him in the sounds of his faith.
He dozed in the soft, fading light,
Then stirred and asked,
“Can you read to me from the Good Book?
Where we left off?”
And so I did, holding his hand,
Reading in Matthew 5
“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”

“My daughter,” he said,
Her spirits is pretty poor.
She’s closer to Heaven than I am.”

I looked at him, emaciated, wheezing slightly,
Leaning back in his easy chair,
Content and at peace.

“Aren’t we all needing Heaven the most
When our hearts are hurting and our spirits are low?”

He nodded sagely, smiled at me, and closed his eyes.
Then he drifted off, both of us contented and comforted
From our heart to heart talk.

 

 

Photo credit: Photo Credit: “I Do!”, © 2010 Yogendra Joshi, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

A Gentle, Angry People

GentleAngry
Communion at Twinbrook Baptist Church this morning.

I have been thinking a lot these past months about privilege and its insidious impact on our culture in general, and the Church in particular.

Privilege creates barriers of assumptions. Of misrepresentation. Unfortunately those of us who have privilege  don’t see it

Privilege comes in many forms: White privilege. Straight privilege. Educated privilege. Housing privilege. Food source privilege. Employment privilege. Transportation privilege. Health privilege. I could go on…

Maybe you’ve played the “Privilege Walk” exercise with a group. (You can read more about that here.) Many people of privilege, myself included, found it uncomfortable. Eye-opening. Humbling. But how I learned the most from the experience was listening to others during the debrief session who were less privileged than I. Listening. Not apologizing. Not being defensive. Not being embarrassed. Listening.

I’m also taking responsibility for my ignorance. I’m engaged in some serious reading on the topic of white privilege and intersectionality right now. The biggest take-away so far? Those of us who have privilege have some serious issues with granting other people the same rights we have. Especially people who look/live/love differently.

I wish I could say that the Church (and Christian organizations) are doing a better job at honoring differences and admitting bias and privilege. But we are not. We like our little enclaves and private worlds. We want to hold on to what WE have created, what WE have done. It’s as if we’ve forgotten that everything we have, everything we are, everything we create comes to us via the Spirit’s download. We forget that scarcity is not the economy of heaven. Like the T-shirt says:

Equal rights for others
does not mean less rights for you!
It’s not pie!

The Church today either identifies with a mega franchise or clings  fiercely to our tiny fiefdoms. (There’s not a lot in between.) We fiercely defend what we are used to doing in our churches. (Don’t think so? Try changing it up sometime.) Yet — we say we want to see the Beloved Community on earth and the kin-dom of God to be created in our midst.

Living with a generous Spirit is touch-and-go. Just when we think we’ve got it figured out, something changes. Our stability is gone. The music is different. The preacher is different. The version of the Bible (or prayer book or bulletin size) is different. New people come and sit in “our” (assigned, personal, everyone-knows-we-sit-here) pews! “Those kind” of people attend our churches now. The antidote to this holy entitlement is to focus on deconstructing our privilege, owning what it is, admitting where we have acted selfishly, and work on ourselves (not others) before we see actual change.

Today in our worship service at Twinbrook Baptist, we sang the song by Holly Near, “Singing for Our Lives.” Holly wrote it in response to the assassination of Harvey Milk in 1978. It is a song beloved in the LGBTQ community specifically, and the Resistance community at large. It expresses a very real fear. Unless one has listened to the voices of our brothers and sisters of color, and our LGBTQ siblings, one forgets how easily hate creates an atmosphere of violence.

We are a gentle angry people, and we are singing for our lives.
We are a land of many colors, and we are singing for our lives.
We are gay and straight together, and we are singing for our lives.

The Gospels are clear – If we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, then just maybe we need to demand less, expect less, and show more compassion and respect. And we need to confess when we have been racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and xenophobic.

It’s not an option. It’s not easy. But it is the way of Christ.

Lord, help me.
Blessed be.

I Can See Clearly Now…

I came home from an extended weekend (and an AMAZING conference… more about that another time!) I discovered that the pump for my water feature had busted, and the water was very, very murky. In addition, it appears that we have a new occupant joining the lone Weasley brother! Welcome Froggo, a lovely leopard frog! Judging by size, I’m guessing in the alto to tenor range.

 

Putting in the new pump required draining the pond, which was a smelly and damp task! Included in the damp part was catching and holding the goldfish and frog in a separate bucket while I cleaned out the accumulated muck. Included in the smelly part was wiping out the decomposing fish poop and plant material. Pumping all that water out into the back yard made the grass and me all kinda… pungent. (Be glad those photos aren’t “scratch and sniff”!)

It struck me as I cleaned and mucked out the pond that there are times we forget to filter the things we see and the words we say. I know I jokingly say “no filter!” when I’m overly blunt or want to get my opinion out there. However, I have also seen how words can hurt, and how a lack of a filter actually muddies the conversation. After all, you can’t really listen when words hurt and wound. And you lose perspective and insight, too.

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Anyway, the new pump is working well, and Weasley appears content. Froggo is somewhere out of sight. And I have a fresh perspective on thinking, filtering and clearing up the muddy waters.

I think I can make it now the pain is gone.
All of the bad feelings have disappeared.
Here is that rainbow I’ve been praying for.
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), 
Bright (bright) sun-shining day!

from I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash

Co-laborers, Dreamers, Wonderers and Wanderers

IMG_4570
That night in St. Louis!

It was a casual dinner with pizza and laughter, reflection and just plain fun. And I wrote a prayer about it over at RevGals… so go take a look! 🙂

(NOTE: There are many more faces that could also be in this photo. You know who you are… I’m all kinds of thankful for you!)

Working hands, busy mind

I cleaned my stove tonight. I cleaned it because I clean it once a week. Yep. Every Wednesday night, it’s stove-cleaning time.

Isn’t it beautiful? I love me a bright, shiny stove!

Um… well…

Now, if you know me at all, you’re laughing, because I tend to clean when I can see a difference between clean and unclean. Or company is coming over. Or there’s been a Plague in the house and I’m banishing germs. Or it was a year ago and the dust bunnies are catching fire.

Truthfully? I cleaned the damn stove because it had been a month or two, and it was disgusting. And I was waiting on a return phone call and was passing the time. Like ya do. Cleaning a stove…

You see, I find that when I need to really reflect on something, I do a repetitive chore. Something that desperately needs to be done, but isn’t taxing on my brain. Weeding. Ironing. Matching socks. I turn off my tunes or the TV and just get busy.

I think about an upcoming sermon series. I pray for people that I know, for my patients, for my family.

That sounds so Holy. So pastor-like. And sometimes I do those things.

But other times, I’m preparing a grocery list. I’m trying to remember if my dentist appointment is this week or next week. (Whew! It’s not until August!) I’m deciding what we might do for fun this weekend, or I’m just bitching aloud to no one in particular.

Sometimes it’s brutal. I’m replaying conversations in my head. I’m improving my arguments for the next time I’m in head-to-head verbal jousting. And I tend to downplay how much I mess things up on a regular basis.

I forget that self-examination and growth takes work, and I sure don’t want to talk about it. I’d rather show the work almost completed (like this photo) rather than own up to just how bad things are.

How bad? Really bad. I don’t have a picture. It was gross.

I haven’t solved a damn thing tonight. I’m in a pissy mood. The phone call never came. The world with its soul-sucking politics is still the same. But I have a clean stove.

P.S. No, I don’t want to do your chores. Don’t even bother asking. Clean your own stove.

Here’s What I Know

At the airport

It was a seemingly random phone call as I sat waiting for my flight at the airport…

“Here’s what I know,” I said,
As I watched the criss-cross of people,
Hurrying here and there,
Carrying bags and talking on phones,
Rushing like there’s no tomorrow…

“We don’t know how much time we have,
So make every minute count.
Stay in the moment,
But think about how you act today
Will impact tomorrow.”

“Impact what?”

“Oh…” I said,
“Your loves.
Your goals.
Your standards.
Your heart.”

“But how will I know if I did the right thing?”

I sat for a while,
And rocked back and forth.
The smell of fresh pretzels
And the sound of wheelie bags overwhelmed my senses.

“I think it’s simple things,” I said.
“Whether you built a bridge or burned it
Whether you showed love or indifference,
Whether you showed grace or sat in judgement,
Whether you left people feeling welcomed in,
Or shoved out.”

“Those aren’t simple things.”

“No… they aren’t. But they are everything.”

It was just a random phone call.
But it turned out to be prophetic.

God, help me hear and respond with love to every call…

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