Thursday, September 10, 2015

Stress Loss



You know how weight loss adds show the before and after pictures to encourage you to try it yourself? Well, here is my stress loss campaign! 

I feel like a different person returning from my sabbatical (religious-speak for extended vacation away from work). I'm more chill, less worried about the little things, and best part...FULLY RESTED. Those two words are ones I haven't seen in a long time. 

My face holds less tension, my shoulders hold less stress and my doctor shows that my blood pressure has dropped. Those are definitely some practical, visible, tangible results of STRESS LOSS! 

This last month of August Tim and I both took off from work, boarded a plane and headed far west to New Zealand and Australia. We had plans for generally where we would be in those countries each day and which Air Bnb/hotel we were to stay for the night, but other than that our trip was left up for daily adventure. We went to museums, hiked national parks, saw incredible sounds of water with rainbows and wildlife, kayaked, snorkeled, swam, ran, and lounged. We took a long road trip around the southern island of New Zealand and felt like we were gawking at  National Park beauty of snow capped mountains and water everywhere we went. I got to cuddle a koala and feed kangaroos out of my hand in Australia. I took time to look around me. Look up. Look down. Look within and remind myself that even in the midst of a profession that is about caring for others, I can and will care for my needs, too. 

I couldn't have picked a better travel partner than Tim. Even after a full month of travel with just him (this is a feat for an extravert), I didn't want it to end. I'm grateful for the time we got to spend just with each other. Present with each other. Present - without stress or worry or agenda - with each other. It was and is such a gift to our marriage. 

How long does it take to lose stress, you ask? Honestly, I'm not sure. I think somewhere between 2-3 weeks my body went into a deeper level of relaxation. I spent most of the first week sleeping through things, including an intense rugby match. My body was no doubt fighting jet lag, but also just trying to catch up - To get the most of this deep rest before time is cut short. 

Tim and I are very fortunate to have taken this time. It was a gift of my church and a wise and generous move of Tim's company's partners to let us get a way for a bit. And we are forever thankful to those communities. This time away feels like a game changer. A reset button. A fresh new start with some more energy and more balanced perspective. 

So, I encourage you to try it for yourself! Pastor-types, negotiate sabbaticals. I chose one month every three years instead of three months every seven. Church-types, encourage your pastor to take extended breaks. Other worker-bees like Tim, I know your professions aren't likely to take the biblical support for sabbaticals, but find the vacation time, ask for time off, it's amazing and well worth the extra effort.

This might be all I write about our month away...seems like work to do more...however,  if you're on instagram, you'll be seeing pictures from our trip on Thursdays (#tbt) from now until forever :) 
Weekly reminders for me and glimpses into what we saw and did for you that helped me gain this perspective on life and appreciation for full and real rest.

Here's todays pic:

#tbt Coolest Pool, Sydney, Australia

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Into Deeper Waters

When I was first learning about the ocean, my dad would take me and my sister out with him. The two of us, one on each hip. We'd watch in amazement how he just kept walking through the crashing waves. We'd squeal, he'd jump and we'd be on the other side of the wave. He wanted to show us how just beyond the first break of waves,  the waters calm down. It's lake-like. We'd float for a bit and then he'd tell us it's time to go further. With surprised looks on our faces, and hearts full of trust for our dad we'd wrap our arms tight around him and explore deeper. I remember some hard conversations. The two of us young girls not wanting to go further and my dad in an attempt to help us overcome our fears would encourage us along. I remember the day we went to the point where he couldn't touch. He was treading water. It was an amazing moment. Not one of us drowned.

My childhood memory reminds me of Jesus calling Peter out onto the water (Matthew 14:22-33). Jesus invites Peter into deeper waters to explore what he hadn't seen before. Peter learns, as do we, that it is all about trust.

This year my mom was diagnosed with cancer. It's taken an emotional toll on me and my family. And it's certainly taken lots of time for me to feel like I can process it, much less write about it.

In a lot of ways my mom is the emotional bedrock of my family. She is a professional juggler of both family and church needs. It's pretty amazing just how many people my mom can keep track of and love.

When we stepped deeper into the reality of her illness, roles had to shift...and trust had to be reworked. It feels to me like Jesus is inviting me into deeper waters and I am terrified. Whose feet exactly can touch the ground? My family and friends close to mom have had to dig deep within ourselves to find something bigger to trust. Something big enough to overcome our fears of falling in. For me, it's Jesus.

I am sad about my mom's illness. Sad about how cancer is fighting her and sad about how the treatments are fighting her. I'm sad when I see how hard she fights to still be our mom or my dad's partner or my grandmother's daughter or my aunt and uncle's sister. Somehow she musters up the energy each day to walk a little deeper into the waters. For herself, but also for us.

I feel Jesus beckoning me into deeper waters with him and I'm convinced I'm still treading water where I am.  I trust deep down, like I trusted my dad, that we'll be ok. That Jesus won't let me slip under. That I'll be amazed looking back at how we all stay afloat. But, I'm still terrified. Still watching the big crashing waves with fear and awe. Still holding tight to Jesus as we pass through each wave and come to the other side.

We don't get a choice if we experience rifts and currents in life, but we do choose how we ride them. When we risk some movement through the breaking waves, we can sometimes find calm and peace on the other side. With some intentional trust, we can lean back and float for a while. We won't sink down. Trusting even in the deep waters, we can rest here for a bit.

Jesus does this. He takes us to deeper waters. But he is trustworthy. He'll be there with us. Ready to catch our hand when we begin to sink. Ready to move us to a more restful spot before we begin deeper again.    

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ashes for Action

Following a full morning of #AshesonBART, our church intern Lacey Hunter, elder Tom Pack and I gathered in front of the immigration court building in San Francisco to offer a service of ashes and prayers.

Together with the Interfaith Coalition of Immigrant Rights, we lamented the fear and uncertainty that hundreds of thousands of immigrants feel as they cannot yet apply for safety through Obama's extended programs DAPA and DACA. Read more here.

The connection for me is clear. On Ash Wednesday, we step into the season of Lent. We mark a cross with ashes on our forehead and we remember that we are mere dust...beloved dust...and that as God's creation we belong (in life and in death) to God. We also belong to each other...

"Somos todos seres humanos." We are all human beings. We are connected beyond borders, beyond governments, beyond racial our faith. By our Creator. By our God.

Thus, Ash Wednesday and this season of Lent cannot be just a time to focus on our personal relationships with important as those are. We cannot just be aware of how God is present to us, but to our neighbors as well.

The ashes remind us that we are dust and we will return to dust. That dust is all of creation...God's creation...we are connected.

This lenten season I'm excited to walk with my community (Mission Bay Community Church) toward a deeper faith as we seek to see and care for our neighbor.

As a great mentor and professor Bill Brown once said, "May we see what God sees, and may our hearts break over what breaks God's heart."

Parts of our Service of Ashes and Prayer was documented by NBC Bay Area News. You can watch online here:!/on-air/as-seen-on/Protests-Follow-Court-Order-on-Obamas-Immigration-Reform/292514031

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Love is a Risk

Last year I determined that my life goal is to take risks for the sake of the gospel. As I live it, I realize that this takes shape both in my professional life and personal life. In both, it is often the risk to open my heart to love.

This Valentine's Day, we get swept away with images and messages of love. And though our culture prioritizes intimate love, there are many more forms. Love between parents and children, siblings, grandparents and grandchildren, friends, colleagues. This year, I received a valentine from one of my mentors.

Love for me means many things -

Love is an intentional action to care for someone's needs above your own.
Love is a feeling of belonging, being known and accepted fully.
Love is opening your heart to let someone else in.

...Ultimately, love is a risk.

In my professional life caring for people, love is a risk I take every day. I meet people, I look for God's presence in them, as I get to know them and care for them, I begin to love them. This takes investment of time and emotional energy. And sometimes that Christian love spreads and multiplies and I am amazed by the joy it brings. And sometimes it falls short leaving me a bit empty and tired.

In my personal life too, love is a risk. Risking to invest in a new friend in a transient place when we really don't know how long they can or will stick around. I risk when I invest all of who I am and all I have in my spouse, Tim. If one day I were without him, a large part of me would be missing. Same with my family and close friends. With each step deeper into love, I'm risking more of myself. Vulnerability and parts of me I won't get back.

This Valentine's Day, I am aware of these risks. I'm aware of my friends who have lost someone or several people that they love. They mourn this day because they know what the fullness of joy love brings and they feel the empty space. I'm aware of friends taking a risk to love and the fear they feel of being vulnerable and hurt. And I'm aware through my social media feeds and texts and calls how worthwhile these risks for love are... because regardless of what kind of love it is, love is what binds us together. Love is what reminds us of our worth. Love, for me, is the purpose of life.
The risk well worth taking.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Netflix Therapy

Ok, this post is going to sound silly. But I write it because it's true for me and because I know so many of us do it. Do what, you ask? Use Netflix to help us process the emotional stress of life.

These last few weeks I have devoured Gilmore Girls. A sitcom of a mother/daughter duo who basically engage in witty banter for 40 minutes about family, education, social class, pop culture and politics (2000-2007). At first I indulged because it reminded me of when my college roommate Elin and I would would watch the episodes (you know, marathon style) when we finished all our end of term exams. It was our way to destress, laugh and have fun.

I kept watching because the show made me laugh and I started connecting with the characters in the story line. Then, it dawned on me (...I know, that this show served a purpose for me. Watching these two women engage in their relationships was allowing me to consider the relationships that were causing me stress. I could laugh at their issues because they were just enough like mine that they were real and just enough different that it didn't hurt...too much.

When I realized I was crying in an episode, I really got it. Oh man, I'm carrying some stress and pain of social structures, abusive relationships and unrealized dreams. I'm feeling this disappointment deeply. I want reconciliation, but I'm not quite there yet. I could ride the emotional roller coaster with these characters I grew to like and it helped me remember that the seasons don't last forever. The storyline always continues...well, until it ends.

[Netflix] shows can let us into the storyline where we realize (at a slant of course) our own emotional issues and stress. They play on our emotions by taking us along the real life ebb and flow of pain.

I'm not saying Netflix is the way to process your emotions. I still prefer professional therapy, good colleagues, exercise and rest....BUT, sometimes it's just what I need to gently engage and process.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Sleep Wrestling

My newest spiritual practice is to read a daily entry of Celtic Treasure: Daily Scripture and Prayer by J. Philip Newell each morning.

This morning's entry focused on the biblical story of Jacob wrestling with God. In the context of the story (Genesis 28-33), I remember the complexity of human relationships. The parental favoritism shown by Abraham toward their son Esau and Sarah toward their son Jacob. The brotherly feud between Esau and Jacob. The trickery, manipulation, and power struggles. And in the midst of the human messiness, Jacob wrestles with God. In his sleep, Jacob is worried about confronting his brother Esau and he wrestles with his fears and with God. By the end he's desperately asking for God's blessing and protection in the day ahead.

Reading this story this morning is the first time I've really connected with Jacob's wrestling in his sleep. My own worries and fears can dominate my subconscious and take over my dream world. In these dreams, I find my subconscious working out daily interactions and processing deep emotional issues. It feels like wrestling with my fears and with God. A wrestling match between my own free will and with God's will.  I wrestle by wanting to cling so strongly to the control I have (or perceive to have) and my own desires for how things should work out.

At the end of the scripture passage, Jacob does encounter his brother. And the big event he feared turns into a joyous event of reconciliation. Jacob, wounded by his fitful slumber, limps toward Esau and Esau runs to him, kisses him and together they weep. Jacob says to his brother, "Seeing your face is like seeing the face of God, for you have welcomed me back with love."

Waking from a fitful night's rest is never fun. It sometimes makes the day ahead incredibly hard to face. Reflection on this scripture has made me ready to look for the ways the events I fear become events full of joy. For God's will is always better than my own.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Transience - Rooted in God

2015 is here! Regardless of the fact that I keep writing 2014 on everything...

The turn of a new year always creates a pause in my life for reflection. A moment to mark the transition and look forward to the future.

As I reflect on this past year, I'm aware of the ways I have changed and grown both as a pastor and as a person. I'm also acutely aware of what has stayed the same.

One of the major themes of my ministry in San Francisco is the transient nature of the community. Each year, new people come into my life and into our ministry. And each year good friends and congregants move away. I find myself sitting with both grief and joy at these transitions. Grief that our church community must say goodbye to incredible leaders and faithful disciples and great joy that I've had the chance to meet them and share ministry with them.

San Francisco at Night.

In conversation with a colleague Monica Kilpatrick some time ago, she shared with me the metaphor of a port for my (and MBCC's) ministry in San Francisco. We are here, providing a space, a community, and a format for people to enter into. Some may only visit, stop and rest a while. Others may settle in, grow, share, and lead us. And as we bring people in, we also send some on their way to the next place God is calling them. This metaphor of a port is helpful to me as it reminds me that God has called me to a specific kind of ministry. A place that is active and energetic, fun and engaging. A community that is transient and will continue to change.

I now know that the emotional process of loss will remain the same struggle. The depth of my grief and my joy will stay the same. My heart saddened in the same way now as is was the first time. And honestly, that's a good thing. As hard as it is to say goodbye and grieve, it shows that my heart (and our hearts) are still open to loving. Open to the newness God is bringing our way.

During worship last Sunday, we laid hands on one of our members who is moving away. This ritual of laying on hands and praying over the one who is being called elsewhere is such a beautiful gift for our community. It acknowledges the pain of the loss, lifts it to God and reminds us all that beyond this place, beyond our geography, beyond even our community in each other....we belong to God. We are rooted in God and thus we are forever connected to one another through God.

As I look to the new year, I am excited about the new energy, ideas and growth. I also hold within my heart the people who have come and gone during my ministry at MBCC and I hope you know you will forever keep a place in my heart.

Happy 2015! Here's to remembering, celebrating and jumping into the new year!