Tuesday, March 31, 2009


When my mother died, I was a sophomore at Ohio Northern University.  This loss was obviously the hardest thing I had ever dealt with.  I spent a week at home for planning the funeral, the visitation, etc.  My mother's internment was on a Sunday afternoon.  That same Sunday evening I came back to school to go to work that night and start classes the next day.  

At the same time I was dealing with this, one of my friends was dealing with the divorce of her parents.  I don't know the details of her family situation, but she left school for the entire semester to deal with the loss of her sense of family.  Even long after I had been back at school, she stayed home, dealing with her loss.  At the time, I thought that she was being childish and overdramatic about her family's situation, and thought that she should come back to school.  She did, but it didn't work out for her.  She ended up leaving school for good.  

I have learned a lot since then, and what I have learned (and I would argue that this is the most important lesson for any person to learn) is that pain is a personal experience.  No one person's pain can be compared to that of another person.  Pain, grief, stress, and all of our other emotions are a personal experience.  Even two people experiencing the same loss feel the pain in different ways. 

What brought this all to front was the time of the semester it is in seminary.  It is the time of the semester when we are all stressed about homework, anxious about not only the upcoming break, but also our plans for the summer and next school year, but it also seems that most people have a life situation or two (or three...) piled on top of that.  What commonly happens, is that one person starts sharing about how they are stressed are, genuinely hoping for some support from the people that are in similar situations, and the person listening tries to one-up them.  It happens a bit like this... 

"Man, I'm just so tired.... I haven't been sleeping well, and I have two papers and a presentation to do before the end of the week..." 

"Oh, that's terrible... but I've got three papers and a DCoM meeting this week, and I'm preaching on Sunday."  

While both people are looking for support (and often, affirmation) the conversation turns from support to a contest over who busier, more over-committed, stressed.  

If we can't even provide care for our friends who are stressed over schoolwork because we are trying to one-up them, how are we ever going to care for someone in situations where their entire life is literally falling apart.  Are we going to say, "Sorry, you're parents are getting divorced and your sense of family is shattered, but my mom just died... I came back to school, and so should you."  While that sentence seems unruly, I actually considered uttering in my lifetime.  

This is all a lesson in pastoral care, but more importantly, it is a lesson in Christian love.  Christian love is not one-upping someone, but putting your own stress, grief, turmoil aside so that you can love someone in the midst of their own context. 

This is a lesson I am still working on learning, but I hope that I can start being an example of this so that others can experience that love, and eventually provide that kind of love for someone else.  

Monday, March 23, 2009


I wrote this as a paper for a class with the best professor ever.  He suggested that I publish this, but I was too shy.  The blog will have to suffice, knowing that it is now on the web... it is a bit intimidating, I won't lie... 

Most of the time, it is a ritual that creates or strengthens the bond between two people.  For me and her, it is the bond between the two people that started our ritual.  It is the kind of bond that you would never understand unless you have one of your own.  The bond created by loss is a bond unlike any other.  For us the loss is not shared.  While I loved her mother and she loved mine (probably more than either of us know), it is the loss of our own mothers that created this ritual. 

            Her mother died first.  At that time, she dealt with issues that I never dreamed I would deal with a few years later.  So when my mother died, I found the greatest solace in her.  She would tell me the answers that the others were too polite to tell.  She and I are both incredibly strong (after all, the loss of a mother will make anyone strong) and the way we escaped the pity stares and the “dead-mom” whispers was to talk with each other.  We talked about how we missed our mothers, how we sometimes didn’t understand our widowed fathers, how our brothers coping methods were different than ours and anything else under the sun. 

            One reoccurring theme was the feeling of injustices that were done to us as a result of losing a mother.  They started out lighthearted like, “Injustice: I will never have someone to make my gynecologist appointments for me.”  Sometimes they were shared face to face, sometimes over instant messenger, but mostly they occurred via text message.  Sometimes they were about church, sometimes about teaching, sometimes about loneliness, but they were always about two things: injustice and mothers. 

            Our mothers were the same type of women.  Both teachers, they touched the lives of the community like very few teachers can.  When her mother died, students grieved hard together.  I know this, because I was one of them.  When my mother died, the town shut down.  The teachers meetings were cancelled along with a basketball game and every church activity that happened regularly.  Students and church members alike grieved together.  She knows this because she was one of them.  At the core of our ritual, it is not a teacher, a church member, or a volunteer the two of us grieved for.  We grieved for our mothers. 

            The greatest force keeping our ritual going is the fact that grief is continual.  Unless you have had an experience like ours, you wouldn’t know anything about grief but what the textbooks tell you.  What we know is that grief is continual.  It does not ever go away, though some seem to think it does.  Our ritual is a way of dealing with our continual grief.  Sometimes our sharing of injustices is still humorous, but most of the time they come when our hearts are so lonely that it just feels reassuring to know that someone reads it.

“Injustice: my mother will not be able to proofread any papers for me.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Theological Circles

One of the most “controversial” prayers I have ever heard was a prayer that went something like this: “Loving Mother God, Help us to be impregnated by your Holy Spirit so that we may give birth to your word in the midst of this world that we are living. Amen.”  Alright, so it was a bit more articulate than that, but that’s what it was, more or less.  It made me a little uncomfortable at the time, but I went with it.  Since then I have heard God called many things.  I pride myself on surrounding myself with people that have different views of God than me. 

Today, I’m sitting in my Doctrine of the Trinity class, and we’re talking about the interchangeability of gender language in regard to the part of the Trinity traditionally called “Father.”  I am just going to allow my fingers to flow, not caring about articulation, and document my train of thought. 

First, we should not use gendered language when talking about God.
  This is because we don’t know anything about God, and therefore any attempt we make to ascribe something to God is going to fall short.  This is especially true for masculine language for two reasons: 1. Using masculine language ascribes masculinity to God, and we don’t know the gender of God (or if God even has a gender) and 2. Using masculine language perpetuates the oppression of women that has so long been justified by the use of the term “Father.”

Well, then I was thinking.
  If we can’t (because of reason 2 listed above) call God “Father,” then we can call God “Mother.”  But, hold up.  We can’t do this because of reason 1 listed above.  The question posed to us was, “If you were baptizing a baby, what term would you use.”  _____, Son, Holy Spirit.  Hm… what would I use?  Ah Ha!  Creator!  I triumphantly raise my hand to share my answer.  The professor then says, “But, if you limit God to ‘Creator’ then you are taking away many important qualities of God.”  So when you start trying to use terms that don’t demean God, it confuses the congregation who (on the whole) doesn’t give a rip about theology like you do. 

So great… here I am… So I can’t call God “Father” or “Mother” or anything else for that matter.
  So what do you call God?  We start discussing a school of thought that says that all language for God is metaphorical anyway, so we can call God whatever.  The thought behind this is that because we can’t know anything about God, any attempt is as good as any other, because no attempt is going to do any justice.  So now we’re back to square one.  Using the term “Father” is just as good as any other. 

No matter what word I choose to use (be it "Father" or "Mother" or "Parent" or "Friend"), that word is going to represent a broken relationship in someone's life.  All people can hurt people, and using relational terminology to speak about God is no good, just like anything else.  Hm... 

Sheesh… I’m running in circles here, knowing that eventually I am going to have to arrive at a conclusion and defend that conclusion in front of a Board of Ordained Ministry.  What a day… 

Out of all of this, I have discovered that I really do like theology.  I love working through these issues.  I love "Rational wrestling with mystery" (Thanks, Barth, for that).  I love it.  I am doing the right thing with my life.  

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

22 going on 23

Each Valentine's day, my mother would buy me and my brother a small gift.  Usually it was a toy or trinket or something of the like.  As a child, I always loved to read.  I always checked out my limit of 4 books at the library and returned and exchanged them as soon as possible.  One Valentine's day, I walked down the stairs to see our gifts sitting on that white and yellow speckled kitchen counter.  Brad's toy?  A G.I. Joe.  My gift was a book.  A lowsy book.  Now, why I thought my gift was lousy? I don't know... I loved to read and this was a perfectly appropriate gift for me.  I put up a huge fuss!!  My mother was so offended that she never got us a gift for Valentine's day (other than a sweet or two) after that.  My mom always bought me the best gifts, and sent the most thoughtful lcards, and most of the time I never appreciated them.  

Today, the day before my 23rd birthday, I am sitting in the Columbus airport, heading to Chicago.  I am flying away from my family, and all but one of my best friends.  Birthdays were always important to us Barrett's and I have chosen (though not quite so willingly) to spend this birthday away from the people that I most want to be with.  I am going to a setting in which no one will know that it is my birthday.  I am feeling apprehensive, and a bit lonely already, just sitting in the airport.  

Who knows what tomorrow will bring... another year to my age? certainly.  A bit of sadness that I won't ever get a card or gift from my mom?  Most likely.  Loneliness because I'm not spending my first birthday married with my husband?  Yeah.  Will I live through it all?  Yes.  

23, here I come... 

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Have you had your poem for the day?

It happened every Friday.  At first, I thought it was strange that a professor would take the time to read poetry to his students in an introduction to Christianity class.  Some Fridays I wandered in to the classroom wondering what the poem would be, but most Fridays I dragged myself in and tried with everything I had to stay awake (many times I failed...).  But I always knew that Fridays would start with a poem.  By the end of the quarter, I looked forward to those first few moments of class to just sit back and enjoy a poem.  Some of the poems were about God, but most weren't.  Those who knew Wayne knew his love for seeing God in creation, so many poems were about the creation which most of the college students tended to ignore.  The poems also showed Wayne's incredible amount of love for his lovely wife, Fern.  Many poems were spent read with Wayne trying to conceal a grin that the thought of his wife always gave him.  

As more of my friends took the class, got to know Wayne-o, or both, we all looked forward to the occasions that he would read poetry.  Many other classes that occurred in the chapel were put on hold on Friday mornings as the fans of Friday poems crowded into the classroom for the minutes that the poems were shared.  Other professors may have been frustrated at the delay of the start of their class, but sometimes they joined us in listening to the Friday poem.  

Wayne became a role model to many in my circle of friends.  For the guys who got to know Wayne through Sigma Theta Epsilon, he was a brother.  To those whom he advised, he was a mentor.  To those who ever shared a meal or conversation with, he was a friend.  To those who attended his church, he was a minister.  For many, he was all of these things and more.  One unique role he and his wife shared was a model for a healthy marriage.  Wayne and Fern were so in love with one another, and it permeated all aspects of their lives.  

When it came time for my husband and I to get married, I knew that this man had to be a part of our day.  I asked him very simply to bless the meal at our reception, but what he chose blessed us so much more.  Very true to Wayne's character, he read a poem as a blessing of our marriage.  I could hardly contain my emotions.  I didn't know whether to laugh, cry, or do both at the same time.  It was the perfect addition to an exciting day.  The day came and went, as did the night, and my new husband and I sat opening presents with our families.  We came to a small gift, and immediately I knew it was a book.  We opened the gift and it was Garrison Keillor's Good Poems. It had to be from the Wayne and Fern.  I opened the book, and there was Wayne's familiar handwriting... it suggested a poem to start with and a poem to end with.  I wished at that moment that I could just cuddle up in the new quilt (from Garrett's great-aunt) with my new husband and read poems.  Arriving at our honeymoon destination, we had an evening to relax and just be.  I took Good Poems out of my carry-on bag and shared page 173 with my husband.  I don't even know if he remembers... but it was a time I treasured.  We (my husband and I) are at a point where we are seeking more connection with each other.  The honeymoon (and the 7-ish months following it) is over and we're settling in to life with one another.  The thing is that neither of us want to "settle in."  We are both seeking way to allow our love to grow and evolve each new day.  

A few days ago, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine, and he asked me how I was.  I told him that I felt my life was too shallow.  I didn't know that I would be faced with that feeling again less than a week after our conversation.  I woke up this morning, and just feel the urge to be more primitive.  I had no desire at all to watch the morning news or turn on my computer.  Even looking at the clock made me feel too technological.  I knew that I need some time with poetry to settle my mind and my soul.  I lounged for a bit (with a big glass of milk... my new favorite morning beverage to savor) with Good Poems and just took in the words.  Poem after poem I read and with each stanza I felt a little more peace within me.  

I knew this was a small part of a solution to our marriage desires.  We want to grow closer and to find ways to recreate that honeymoon moment and just "be."  We hope to now share poetry together, each Friday morning, like all the Friday's mornings previous.