Friday, May 26, 2017

Wake Up


We were to learn of sermons and scripture, preaching and purpose, and use our imaginations in the process. As we entered the first session of our School of Lay Ministry retreat, I was excited about the theme of the weekend, "Opening the Word, playing with Midrash." 

As we, led by Pastor Elaine Hewes, explored the sculpting of a sermon, I realized just the impact a current sermon has been having on my life. Current, not recent. I'll get to that later.

Pastor Elaine spoke of asking questions about what God is being and doing in the text, and answering those questions in a way that leads people to a place where they feel they should respond. She encouraged the sharing of personal stories of struggle that might speak to the text, or perhaps juxtaposing two unlike things to carry the message across. She spoke of journeying through the week with the text, waking up to the things, people, songs, interactions, and such in your life that speak to the text and to your heart and bringing some of these into the sermon. And much more than I can sum up in a simple paragraph. 

As Pastor Elaine spoke, I had a revelation. This is what a friend of mine does when she writes a play. Or speaks to teens about tough stuff. Or encourages friends. She wakes people up. She draws on her life struggles, images that inspire her or shake her up, things around her that catch her imagination, and instills them into the essence of the plays that she writes or passionate words she speaks. Her plays are one big sermon. They talk about the tough stuff in a way that inspires the audience to at least think, if not act in response to the issues presented in the play. To act, not out of guilt or obligation, but out of a pull from your inner moral compass after experiencing the performance. 


The sermon that is Beautiful Things, last year's original play by Elizabeth Namen at Epoch Arts, continues to speak to me and change me to this day. Unfinished People, the play currently being rehearsed for its June 2, 3, and 4 performances, is doing the same. Community, distraction, addiction ... meat ants and caterpillars ... the Snagglelump ... the poetry, severity, hilarity, and motivation of her words call me to wake up and take notice. 

Distractions and separateness rule our lives, blinding us to mystery, to community, to love, to the beauty in the juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated things. We need to wake up, look up, stay connected to something bigger. 




Thursday, May 18, 2017

Muchness


My life has been filled with Muchness lately.

Much pain.
Much stress. 
Much joy.
Much celebration.

Communication issues with my rheumatology office led to a week and a half delay for an injection of one of the two medications I need to manage my psoriatic arthritis. This caused a decrease in energy and increase in pain and inflammation...just when I needed energy and (relatively) easy use of my body for theater rehearsals, Spring Cleaning Weekend at Camp Calumet, and getting my house in order in preparation for the arrival of house guests.

Issues with my van leading to necessary repairs of nearly a thousand dollars combined with several other unexpected expenses have us in a financial bind, eased greatly by generous family members. Even so, we have gone from saving up money for a nice two weeks at Camp Calumet this Summer to wondering if we'll have the gas money to get there.

The muchness of pain and stress is balanced by muchness in our joy and celebration. 

Exciting things are happening in our lives. The original mainstage production of Unfinished People in which two of my teens and I are involved is going amazingly well. It is incredibly inspirational working with this group of twenty teens, along with the Epoch Arts staff and volunteers on this production. The Dinner Show they put on exceeded expectations in both talent and hilarity.  And we got to spend time at Camp Calumet along with over one hundred other volunteers to help clean up Camp and get it ready for Summer Camp. A family visit for Mother's Day weekend provided much needed rest, fun, and connection with two amazing mothers who we get to call Gram and Grammy. 



And I get to go back to Calumet this weekend for a School of Lay Ministry retreat. And we got to see our friend Bailey perform magnificently in a production of Bye Bye Birdie.  And we're planning for 16 full days at Camp Calumet this Summer, which will be absolutely wonderful even if we don't have the money for daily breakfast in the Conference Center or a few day trips as we had planned...simply because you can't have a bad time at Calumet! 

There is so much to celebrate in our lives and the lives of loved ones as well. Khalid and Reem, the Muslim refugee family we work with through New Start Ministry, got married in a civil ceremony performed by a Christian pastor in a synagogue. How glorious is that? And my sister's younger child got their name officially changed. And we will be celebrating the homeschool graduation of our oldest child next month.


In thinking about all the struggles I have in my life due to my illnesses and limitations, I can't help to concentrate not on the pain and stress, but on the abundant blessings God provides in our lives. The muchness of joy in our lives far surpasses the muchness of pain. 

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Giving Up and Giving In



I've had a two week long allergy attack and a week before that started a two week migraine. I do my best each day to act ok for as long as I can until suddenly I can't and am completely, utterly miserable. 

In order to get through my days, I've found that I need to conserve energy. In the process, I've found myself giving up a lot of things.

I've given up leaving the house on time (for my OCD self, that's twenty minutes early). I've given up caring about traffic, weather conditions, or whether or not we'll arrive at our destination at the time I perceive I need to arrive there. In addition, I've let go of my need to get the puppets I'm building for St. Paul Puppet Academy completed before rehearsal, as it's completely unrealistic with how busy I've been and how lousy I've been feeling.

I've given in to the comfort of my favorite chair at Epoch and my own bed, as well as to enjoying time with my community and my family without worrying about how much time things are taking or my to-do list. I've given in to my body's need for rest and medication. 

In giving up and giving in, I've discovered that the time it takes to get places seems shorter when you're not stressing and rediscovered over and over again the importance of being in the moment, especially with those you care about. I've experienced more joy amidst my misery than I do when I'm constantly stressed about going and being and doing. 

And I got to hold a chinchilla.


Because of the need to give up and give in, I completely enjoyed watching the looks on children's faces as they got to touch and sometimes hold cuddly and not-so-cuddly creatures during a visit to our homeschool co-op by Critter Caravan. If I was feeling better, I may have worried more about making sure classrooms were properly cleaned, heat turned down, and the like rather than taking a seat and experiencing a wonderful program through the eyes of a curious group of students. I would have missed out on squeals of both delight and uncertainty as we all got to learn about chinchillas, bearded dragons, hissing cockroaches, chicks, bunnies, snakes, hedgehogs, and guinea pigs.

It seems that feeling under the weather can come with its blessings. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Celebration Vacation



It wasn't so much of a vacation as forty-eight hour stay and fifteen hours of travel between 3pm Friday and 6am Monday. 




We got to take part in a wonderful 90th birthday celebration in Pennsylvania for Grandma Jean, my husband's paternal grandmother. We got to visit with grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles who we rarely get to see and spend a glorious 74 degree day playing outside in the morning and celebrating in the evening.


We learned some family history, played games, explored a cemetery, took a drive to the top of a mountain, and listened with interest as Grandma Jean told us about growing up in Pavia, PA, without running water or electricity - a small village that now has those things, but is devoid of cell phone reception. 



My husband took two days off for this trip, which normally would have me stressing over how much time off he has left between sick days he's taken already this year and our upcoming time at Camp Calumet for both Spring Cleaning weekend and over two weeks at Family Camp. But I'm letting go of anxiety over how much time off he'll have and we'll make things work later in the year, even if it boils down to him taking a day or two off from work without pay for our Thanksgiving trip to PA to visit family. I'm making room for invaluable time spent with family by living in the moment and having faith that all will work out in the future. 


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Apparently



One of the things I've let go of this Lent in order to make room for faith and family is time online. Apparently so, since this blog has been quite sparse this Lent. 

I've learned something quite interesting - it's increasingly difficult to keep up with friends and family members when I'm not on social media so much! I miss day after day of Facebook updates because I'm choosing to devote my time to real-life interactions with friends and family. People these days seem to send out life updates to the masses instead of communicating individually with others. I do as well, and it wasn't so apparent until recently.

I thought I might catch up on social media today if I found the time, but have decided that, if there's something of utmost importance, someone will let me know. Right? There is no way I can catch up with everyone's past week without devoting an entire day to the process. 

Another thing I've noticed is that apparently I have help in keeping relatively up to date on the world through social media. One friend keeps me current with oil pipeline and Native American happenings; another with healthcare and yet another with education; one sends me links to local happenings and a few post regular updates on presidential actions from differing points of view. In that way, keeping up with social media serves me well. 

I suppose what I need to do is find a balance - some time on social media to stay current on the lives of loved ones and world happenings, and some time devoted to other pursuits. Instead of checking for updates many times a day or not at all, perhaps I can take time to put my feet up a couple times a day to relax and take it all in...both what's going on online, and what's going on in my own household. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Storm Prep


We live in New England, where a blizzard dumped a foot and a half of snow and provided a nice opportunity for our family to spend time together ... cleaning. 

Ok, so we didn't spend the entire time cleaning, but I did take the opportunity over the past few days to get a bunch of cleaning done around the house, just in case we lost power...and because it needed to be done. Somehow our youngest children were more willing to do some major cleaning and decluttering in the name of storm prep.

We cleaned up the dining room/kitchen (one big room) just in case we needed to close the upstairs bedrooms and set up air mattresses on the first floor, where we would do our best to provide light and some heat in the case of a power outage. In the process, stray children's items made it back to their rooms, craft supplies were put in their proper place, and the surface of the table appeared. Donations were organized and homeschool bins from last session's co-op classes were updated for Spring session's class.

Two children somehow produced two garbage bags of clothing that they had outgrown or didn't need in the process of cleaning up their room.  

We took a break to watch Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them while feasting on chili and homemade guacamole. Well, six of the seven of us watched. I may have fallen asleep partway through. 

We also did fun things like play on the computer, begin construction of a blacklight puppet prototype, and Alia had a blast playing in the snow while others shoveled.  

The cleaning that we accomplished cleared the way for family time and fun projects that have been put off for weeks. 


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Aquarium Adventure or Crazy Homeschoolers on a Snowy Day


At School of Lay Ministry the other night we got on the topic of finding blessings and living in gratitude even, and especially, in the most difficult of situations. Dealing with cancer? Pray for the most treatable kind. Having a difficult time walking? Decorate your crutches with duct tape! 

Letting go of anger, disappointment, worry, and frustration breeds acceptance, gratitude, and even joy. 

We were supposed to be going to Mystic Aquarium yesterday, taking some teenage friends along. I had snacks packed, membership and extra tickets ready.  However, there was a bunch of white stuff falling from the sky and things weren't looking promising. 

It used to be that things not going according to plan, especially when friends are coming along, would have me stressed and anxious. But what does stress and anxiety do other than ruin everyone's day? Instead, we waited to see what would happen with the weather and the road conditions ... and checked the Aquarium website, which let us know that they would be opening at noon due to the weather. 

Finally, the decision was made to go, and we were off...a forty-five minute drive to pick up Laila, then ten more minutes to pick up Lexi and Mikayla. Then another hour to the Aquarium, road conditions good, even through the snow, the entire way. We arrived, ate lunch or snacks, and then emerged from our van, only to be met with someone from the Aquarium informing us that they made the decision not to open. I think I asked her to repeat herself twice. I just couldn't believe it! 

Back in the van, we determined there was nothing local worth doing that was open, so got moving toward home, knowing we had plenty of time to decide what to do. A lively discussion ensued, and it was decided we'd to go the movies with the recliners and the "scary bathroom" (at least according to one teen who just can't handle dyson airblades). Tickets were ordered online via cell phone and we made the hour and twenty minute drive back from whence we came.

Seven of us went to one movie, and two to another. Somehow my husband ended up with the only adult teen and I accompanied six children, ages 9-16.


Back in the van after the movies, there was an uproarious "ME!" response to the question, "Who wants to go to Five Guys?" After eating, it was time to take children home ... another hour and a half of driving ... before we picked up Five Guys for Alex, who didn't accompany us on this adventure, and finally went home. 

Not the day any of us had imagined, but one we quite enjoyed and will definitely never forget! 

By letting go of expectations for the day, we were able to embrace the absurdity of our experience and make room for what we could do to make the most of things instead of dwelling on what didn't happen as hoped.


Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Day That Wouldn't Have Happened


Letting go is beginning to make room.

Yesterday's usual obligations cleared out by letting go made room for a day out with my three youngest children. 

We were blessed with the opportunity to entertain two year old Elin while her parents filled out job applications. We spent some time inside reading books, playing with a truck, and about ninety seconds watching tv. Then we were outside showing Coren, who hadn't been for a visit yet, the sights. We sat at picnic tables and blew bubbles, went up and down the steps, and discovered that the front of the building was much more windy than the parking lot around back! 

Inside again, our little hostess brought us a plate of Turkish crackers and delighted in singing and dancing to the ABC song in various forms thanks to YouTube. And, of course, a rousing game of  "I See You" thanks to Alia. 

Before we knew it, it was time for an amazing lunch at Plan B and then we were off to the Children's Museum to use Alia and Coren's Christmas gift admissions for two. There were opportunities to pet a bearded dragon and a rabbit, conversations with museum staff, and lots to explore and learn. 

In addition to our schedule being clear, my expectations of the day were nearly nonexistent - babysitting, lunch, museum ... fun, exploration, whimsy. The only limitation was that imposed by my body, when my pain levels, including a migraine, got too intense and my energy levels too low to continue. By that time, we'd all had a wonderful time and didn't mind heading home.

Without letting go, this day wouldn't have happened. 


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Commitments


I do a lot. A lot. 

Doing, helping, being involved in faith, theater, homeschool, and other communities is what keeps me going despite chronic illness and pain.

But recently I have felt that some of my commitments have not been serving me well. It was time to let go of a few things and make room in my life for more self care and family time. Once I let go of these obligations, I knew it was the right choice, as I felt lighter and more free. 

In addition, I have found myself saying no to things I normally would have said yes to. Some were opportunities that I would have said yes to in a heartbeat in the past, but took time for careful consideration before declining. 

Sometimes we forget that we can't do it all; that saying no is ok; and that a no from us will be an opportunity for someone else. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Expectations


Sometimes we need to let go of expectations and see what happens. 

Teaching Puppetry in various forms at Epoch Arts Homeschool Co-op has taught me a lot about expectations. Sometimes expectations are a good thing. Sometimes they can hinder creativity and growth.

I have high expectations for my students. I expect them to treat each other with respect, to support each other, and to work together. I also expect them to think for themselves and to be able to work on their own when needed. I expect them to listen, to hear, to respond, and to remember. I also expect that they will make mistakes, have bad days, and have just as much grace for themselves during these times as I do for them.

Many parents find it interesting that I "get" their children to do things they wouldn't normally do. I've found that letting the children know that I expect them to participate in class as fully as possible, but that they have the option of doing something different leads to beautiful things. I expect them to bow out of the crazy theater games we play or ask for a smaller part in or do tech for a performance if that's what the feel they need to do. When they find that stepping out of the exercise is met with me enjoying their company while watching their seven other classmates try not to fall off of a little paper "island" into imaginary water, they are more apt to give the game a try the next time. Why? Because they know I expect them to enjoy themselves, without pressure to do everything I suggest. One of these children participated the second time around despite not liking to be touched ... and hung onto a classmate as if his life depended on it ...and laughed through it... and exclaimed to me at the end that he actually did it, even though he didn't think he could. Without any expectation from me other than to have fun looming over him, he was able to try without feeling trapped by needing to complete the activity. 

I also have let go of some expectations. I do not expect that a child, no matter their abilities, cannot do any particular thing. I expect that they will do things to the best of their ability and in their own way. I do not expect all students to learn at the same pace or in the same way. I do not expect them to act, or make their puppets act, exactly as I imagine, as their imaginations are usually vastly better than mine. I don't expect that any rehearsal or performance is going to go perfectly - ever. And I let them know that. Sometimes mistakes are merely, as Bob Ross would put it, "happy accidents" that lend more flavor to the performance. I don't expect these amazing children to fit into any specific mold or to be anything more or less than their own unique selves. 

So why, then, do I have so many expectations for myself? Why do I often feel that I'm not enough, don't accomplish enough, don't do things well enough or right enough or good enough?

I'm going to take time this week to pay attention to the perhaps too strict expectations I have for myself and give myself the same grace that I give to my students. And I'm going to do the same for others in my life for whom I may have too many or too specific expectations. 

Today, I intend to let go of expectations and embrace the happy accidents and whimsy that comes along with freeing oneself from a singular idea of what is supposed to be.