• Seeking Emotional Sobriety in Times of Change

    blogpic.shoesIn two and a half weeks—17 days to be exact—I will leave St. Louis, Missouri and move to Frisco, Texas. As you can imagine, October has been fraught with more tasks to accomplish than are humanly possible in this short time, each one evoking a whole new curtain of feelings—grief, gratitude, anger, fear, hope, melancholy, happiness, nostalgia, and all their many variations.

    The hardest part is giving myself time and space to experience these feelings, to express them in a healthy way, learn from them, and release them. That’s what emotional sobriety is—the willingness to acknowledge our emotions, positive and negative, and to actually feel and experience them.

    “Sobriety” is a good word for this process. It is so tempting to bury our feelings and opt for familiar, potentially addictive coping strategies—strategies that are readily available and even encouraged for making ourselves feel better—like eating chocolate (or too much of anything, really), drinking alcohol, over-functioning to the point of exhaustion, shopping, Netflix-binging, or using prescription or recreational drugs. These can create a new set of problems with the power to wreak havoc on how we behave and what we say, while the feelings are still there, buried under all the muck.

    Yet when we allow ourselves to just experience them, those feelings often dissipate more quickly. I still find this surprising. I’m afraid if I actually feel them, my emotions will be erupting all day, getting bigger and never going away. But what really happens is the opposite: When I just have a good cry, express my fear and anxiety surrounding these changes to a trusted friend, yell at God in the shower, and say “thank you” for the beauty (that I will miss) in the backyard, the intensity passes and I am freed to move on to the next task (and the feeling it will evoke)!

    Richard Rohr offers The Welcoming Prayer as a guide to safely experiencing uncomfortable feelings and suffering. Briefly, the steps he identifies include the following:

    1. Identify a hurt, offense or negative emotion. Remember the feelings you first experienced with this hurt, and feel them the way you first felt them.
    2. Notice how this pain shows up in your body. Paying attention to your body’s sensations keeps you from jumping into a dualistic, analytic mind.
    3. After you identify the hurt and feel it in your body, welcome it. Stop fighting it. Stop blaming. Welcome the grief. Welcome the anger. It’s hard, but when we name it, feel it, welcome it, transformation can begin.
    4. Stay present in the moment. Any kind of analysis will lead you back into your ego. When you welcome your own pain, you will in some way feel the pain of the whole world. This is what it means to be human, and also what it means to be divine. Remember that you, too, are being held by the very One who went through this process on the cross, when Jesus held the pain of the whole world.
    5. Now hand all of this pain—yours and the world’s—over to God. Let it go. Ask for the grace of forgiveness for the person who hurt you, for the event that offended you, for the reality of suffering in each life. The pain may or may not leave easily, but letting go frees up soul-energy that liberates us to move toward our True Self.

    Truth to tell, my own emotional sobriety and welcoming prayers during this moving process have been a mixed bag. I have accepted some feelings and welcomed them, acknowledged the loss or the truth that accompanied them, let them go, and moved forward. Other times, not so much. For example, I have been projecting my mixed feelings about moving onto my sister who lives in Dallas, as though she didn’t want me moving nearer to her. The truth is that I haven’t wanted to move away from my two adult children, who are remaining in Missouri. Oh! And did I mention that I’ve bought four pairs of new shoes in as many months?

    Which reminds me—a part of achieving emotional sobriety and the forgiveness we seek in The Welcoming Prayer is finding self-acceptance and self-forgiveness. I am not doing any of this perfectly, and that’s okay. And, yes, I did apologize to my sister!

  • What The Holy Spirit Can Do in Ten Minutes!

    blogpic BreastCancerQuiltI’m starting my second year of classes at Aquinas Institute of Theologyfor a Certificate in Spiritual Direction. During July, I had a one-week Intensive Practicum during which our class practiced Spiritual Direction with each other in threesomes: one was the Spiritual Director, one was the Directee, and one was a Compassionate Observer. We met for a ten-minute session followed by reflection and sharing.

    I was in an emotionally vulnerable place that week. My husband, Dan, had left the morning of my first day of class to move to Texas for a new church job, and I needed to get the house ready sell, help our youngest get ready for college, and begin to wind down at my job for a move I had not wanted to make. I didn’t want to move when our youngest was just starting college, especially since she picked one that would be within a 5-hour drive of home; she would now be 10 hours away. Her older brother is changing colleges, majors, and his life-course, and our oldest was about to move to a new state and city to look for a new job. My children had already been through so much and I did not want to add to it by selling their home while their own lives were in transition, and they were still growing into adulthood. They had endured a mom with rigorous breast cancer treatment and chronic severe migraines, the illness and death of three beloved grandparents, the loss of their church home when it was time for Dan to resign as pastor, and other life traumas along the way. The last thing in the world I wanted to do, was to add to their losses by losing their home and having their parents move 600 miles away.

    Tuesday of that week I listened to a podcast of The Moth Radio (“true stories told live”) as I got ready in the morning. One of the stories just uncorked me. Of course, I already had my makeup on, but I just bawled. I figured it was the all the loss and change going on, and that story gave me a chance to get some of it out. I went to class still sad, like my emotions were just under the surface with the flood gates ready to open at any time. This meant I did not want to be the Directee while someone else practiced being the Director! I wanted to hold it together.

    I managed to avoid being the Directee the previous day, and that morning, but by the afternoon it was my turn to be the Directee and I couldn’t get out of it. I told my two partners that I started the morning crying, just so they knew. The Director started with a prayer and then we started. With tears streaming down my face, I shared why this move now was so hard, what my children had already been through, and that I did not want to add to it. The Director was the one person in our class who was the least confident in her role and future as a spiritual director, and was developing into an artist in retirement, so I wasn’t sure how this was going to go.

    At the end of my tearful monologue, she asked me, “what was the story about on the radio?” In the back of mind, I thought it was the wrong question; why wasn’t she asking me about all these feelings of loss and grief? But I answered her question: the story was about a quilting group that made quilts for all the families in their east coast town who lost loved ones during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The story-teller recounted the meaningful, tear-filled moments when they delivered their quilts to the families. Then the Director asked me, “where do you see yourself in that story?”

    Suddenly, I remembered that I had received a handmade quilt from the congregation I served when I was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer—that’s what made me cry, even though I did not make the connection on my own! We had been loved, supported, prayed for and helped in every way possible during my treatment, and the quilt—with squares made from each family in the church—was a symbol of all that support.

    Her next question was even more startling; “If God were to give you a quilt square for this time in your life, what would it look like?” I responded, “It would probably have a sea of faces on it to remind me that there still is a community of people who will love and support us through this change and loss now, just as before.” Then she said, “If you were to give your children a quilt square, what would you put on it?” The answer was obvious, “It would probably be the same square, to remind them that there is a sea of people—both friends and family—who would help, love and support them in their life even when we’re living in a different state. And then it hit me: perhaps they won’t experience this community of support unless their parents get out of the way! The tears dissipated and a feeling of relief and peace came over me.

    Isn’t it amazing what the Spirit can do in ten minutes through someone who doesn’t believe she’s going to be a good Spiritual Director? Her experience as an artist led her to pick up on the image of the quilt, and in that conversation, I received everything I needed. It was truly stunning, especially since I have my breast cancer quilt laying over a chair in my office, and everyone who comes to me for conversation or Spiritual Direction looks right at it!

    Even with the quilt staring me in the face every day I walk into my office, I did not make the connection between The Moth story about the 9/11 quilts and my very own quilt. I needed a Spiritual Director to ask me the right questions for me to see and experience God’s presence and love which was always with me. I couldn’t get there on my own. 

    Ever wonder how God is working in the daily details of your life that you may not be noticing? If so, may I suggest a Spiritual Director? You will be amazed at what God is doing in and around you!

  • When God Says, "No"

    blogpic.NoHeartWhat do you do when God says, “no"?

    I have been praying, hoping, wishing and asking God for our life to go in a specific direction—or more accurately—to remain the same. I don’t want to move, leave my house, lose the beautiful creek in our backyard, work in a different Synod, or say goodbye to the congregation I am currently serving. More importantly, I want to keep our home base secure for our son, who’s changing colleges and our daughter, who is starting college in August. My parents moved my freshman year of college, and while I survived and learned important life lessons, it was extremely difficult. Why would God ask me to do the same to my own kids?

    I have been like the persistent widow in the parable Jesus tells in Luke 18, who, as Dan’s Dad once described her, “blackened God’s eye with her prayers” in order to receive her preferred outcome. Jesus doesn’t tell us who is her opponent, nor what justice she sought; perhaps my prayers don’t rise to the level of justice required for God to give me the satisfaction the widow receives.

    Or maybe God wants me to let go of fear, resistance to change and trying to control my children’s experiences based on my past.

    Shoot. Don’t you hate it when that happens?

    A wise person once said that what we fear is not change, but loss. How true. I don’t want to lose all that we have built in our life in St. Louis over the last 18 ½ years. Yet, this seems to be what God calls us to do. Last Sunday, Dan was unanimously elected to be the Pastor of Legacy Presbyterian Church in Frisco, TX (about 30 miles north of Dallas). He will begin in mid-July, and I will stay in St. Louis until after our house sells and we move our daughter to college (perhaps early October). One silver lining to this move is that we will be close to my Dad, who lives near Ft. Worth, and to one of my sisters, who lives in Dallas.

    Has God said, “no” to my prayers? Yes; God has said “no” to my preferred outcomes. But God also has said, “yes!” to me. More than graceful grieving, God wants me to be more than I am right now, to trust more deeply than I ever have, and to embody my faith with more courage than I can muster on my own.

    God calls us to trust that what she has in store is much greater than what we can ever ask or imagine. In fact, I’m counting on it.