Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Mercy Reflection #2

It's simply amazing what happens when you choose to focus on something and put it out there, in the universe, that said something is your focus of choice.

Mercy. I claimed it for me this year and let the universe know. And now the stuff is coming full throttle...

Yesterday I walk by someone at the gym who literally makes me physically sick. I throw him a death glare and feel great about it. Then I see someone later in the day who knows this person and i'm bragging about my death glare and how righteous it is, and she reminds me: if you knew his story, you would have mercy on him.

Mercy is in the story. The story of someone's life.

I'm a trained spiritual counselor. I KNOW THIS ALREADY. But when it comes to the people who most trigger me, I forget. This is why we *must* all, and I mean absolutely all of us no matter how enlightened we think we may be, have friends who will check our icky behaviors and call us in to greater levels of integrity and accountability.

So today I'm in the shower and it hits me, there's a difference between silence that's held for the sake of oppression and silence that's held for the sake of liberation. One is merciful and the other is all about vengance. And there are names, like a list of names immediately pops up in my head, of people that I've been holding vengeful silence with as a result of the way I am triggered by them. I realize quickly that the trigger is all about the foundational wound in my family system. I acknowledge that a lack of mercy towards others in me is all about me and my pain, and while they may be embodying stuff that's icky/awful, it's not my work to change them but to be honest about the way my pain is unmercifully targetting them.

It occurs to me: mercy for them is in listening to their stories. I break these vengeful oppressive silences by asking these folks to open up to me. And I hold liberative silence and hear them for mercy's sake.

Here's what I am going to do in 2014. I'm going to write that list down. And I'm going to pray for the willingness to arrive at mercy for the folks on my list. I'm going to ask for the willingness to invite each and every one of them to tell me their story. And then I'm going to listen if they let me. It's an experiment in mercy making and I'm going to do it.

Wish me luck (or advice/suggestions/responses/ideas, etc)...

Sunday, January 5, 2014


Things are never perfect on a Sunday morning
when you're a progressive, queer, big city girl
pastoring in a small town, midwestern church.

But the stars aligned and this morning was perfect.

Worship was perfect. Literally perfect: wouldn't change a thing. Perfect.

Then I came home
and watched in the window
just watched for twenty minutes
as my spouse shoveled the drive way
and my daughter, in her hat, mittens, down coat and boots
frolicked in the snow beside him, completely immersed in the joy
and magic of Michigan winter.

Never in my 32 years of living
have both my personal and professional worlds
felt perfect at the same time. And I imagine this moment is just as fleeting
as the other moments of torture, insight, depression and hope.
But for right now
it feels pretty good
to name, claim and live
into perfection.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

One Word 365: Mercy

I'm getting ON the band wagon, yall. A few days ago one of my congregants posted something on Facebook about taking one word and making it your focus all year long. This was supposed to be more meaningful than some kind of New Years resolution that was bound to fail. And you know what? I buy it. I buy it because I think going deep on something, on one thing, is better than being surface with lots of things. So I'm on it. I'm doing it.


Wayne Muller was my spiritual director for a while. And because he's brilliant and bold, he clued in to my need for mercy (as a person, pastor, world-view, practice, concept, etc) right away. I, on the other hand, fought the notion tooth and nail. Why? Because all my life my judgment (as opposed to mercy) has been the source of my strength and positive feedback from others. I'm able to spot dynamics and call them out like the survivor of dysfunctional systems that I am. What I've not been able to master is how to receive those systems with the mercy they need to be transformed. I'm also, obviously as an extension of this lack of merciful receptivity with others, not very merciful with myself. Which it turns out, sucks. Mercy is a necessary condition of love. I think. I think I know.

So, this is the year, yall. I'm going all in.

Looking for it. Trying it out. Listening to it. Seeking it. Practicing. Writing. Delivering. Receiving.

2014: The Year of Mercy. Go.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Why Deadlines Work (in a spiritual way: allowance)

Count them: 2 days left of maternity leave.
Besides the monstrous presence of postpartum depression,
I'm going to miss this spaciousness, this extended time.
And if I'm being honest, I'll admit I haven't always extended my body, mind, heart or time in this space in the ways I'd hoped. So today, with the deadline approaching, there's some kind of allowance in the air.

To look, for a long long time, out the window, catching individual snowflakes on their downward journey to the splayed out, effervescent white. To eat, cookies made by Karen, cookies with high calorie content and lots of Christmas colored sugar sprinkles. Fuck you Weight Watchers; Jennifer Hudson looked better big anyway. To drink this second cup of coffee, unapologetically, because it doesn't matter if my caffeine high is too high when there's no liturgy to write or person to pastorally care for. To stay, lingering, lightly covered in magnetic desire for my spouse, in the bed for much longer than either of us anticipated when we first layed back down. To read, from a chapter of this book, then a quote from that blogger, then a yearning in my son's face which beckons a physical response that none of those literary texts can claim with any certainty. To write, not one, but two poems, in the generous moments between tasks of great and no importance (finance logging, laundry switching, bottle washing). To touch, his balding head, with two fingers, a sign of peace, pushing back what's left behind his ear with a tenderness I've never had toward any of his kind. To feel this bliss. To receive and accept this bliss. To bless this bliss. To know it's all gone soon enough. To love, even with a dash of suspicion, this life, consciously and clearly, on the horizon of yet another change, but in this moment also all-so-quiet. A quiet, a quiet that is foreign, a quite/quiet kind of foreign language, so foreign in fact that I can only pick out a single word from the entire sentence: gift.

6 weeks old & kinda clouded

before 9 a.m.--
snow shoveled
infant mouth fed
nanny coffee-d 
spouse carressed 
laundry gathered
2 articles read and reposted

and then between 9 and 9:30 a.m..--
two sessions of sitting on the floor in the nursery
interrupted only by a breastfeeding session 
folding newborn clothes and putting them "away" 
into a newly purchased tupper wear bin 

he hit six weeks yesterday 
and already the striped dog outfit 
(his first ever worn article of clothing due to popular vote)
and the monkey butt outfit
and the gender neutral plethora of duck outfits 
all reading NB, 
all so small it about cracks your soul in two
all no longer fit

no longer fit 

this parenting thing is about stretching beyond your widest capacity one second
only to have that capacity no longer fit the next 

so stretch again, my friend 

this mothering thing is about the interactivity and intertwinedness of love and loss 
so completely inseperable that it's practically unbearable

wondrous and terrible 

the only reason you get through it 
is because you're so busy 
adding, multiplying and dividing (time, energy, self)
that all the subtracting flies by kinda clouded

but this morning i come to be attentive
awake and present 
to the loss
to the truth of his littleness disappearing
slowly, inch by inch, as he accumulates more life
as i, month by month, accumulate more tupper wear   

i come to be attentive
to document this moment 
through poetry 
so that i don't wake up 20 years from now
walk into my basement full of "storage"
like its some curated museum of my life gone by
and lose my shit on the floor 

i come to grieve and celebrate
this wondrous and terrible stretching 
the way things no longer fit 
to bear witness to this unbearable blend
of love and loss 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

1 Week Old

i know, i know

yes, i've read all the spiritualists
big and small
tried and true
from greats like Pema 
to guppies like my own intuition 
and even the more moderate voices, 
like Logan

and they all say the same thing:
attempts to create permanence are the enemy
the very drive for attachment posits a problem
in this ever changing 
dynamic and dazzling 
scene called life 

but here's the thing

i wish beyond wishing that I could  
take these moments
of stardust and make them 
accessible            forever 

because in 20 years
certainly in 40 years 
i will look back and think/remember
how your breath felt against my chest
how your less-than-a-week old body swaddled so tightly to mine
made me feel more alive than anything else in the whole world. 

and i will want it back.
this. right now. here.
i will want it back. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Love's Transmission

Can I meander with a curiosity here for a moment? 

This morning, it's ten minutes until 10:00 a.m. Usually at this time I am saying my prayers of submission to God alongside Rev. Thomas Ryberg and Rev. Tom Ott at First Congregational Church of Battle Creek before we head in to officiate worship. It's important to pray and surrender to God before worship as an officiant because if you don't, you can easily think that you're responsible for God's presence instead of a vessel/witness for/to G-d's presence. That difference is the difference between idolatry and faithfulness. Kind of a big deal. Anyways, enough pontification. 

Today, this morning, I'm at home eating breakfast with Aurora while J.R. is in the shower. I'm home because I'm on maternity leave. My baby is 3 days past his due date. I'm good for nothing in the work world so I'm staying away from church even though the baby isn't here yet. I have some guilt about that, but it's fleeting. Like I said, it's ten minutes until 10:00 a.m. and all of a sudden Aurora starts saying "Tommy and Tom. Tommy. Tom. Tommy and Tom." Over and over, at least 20 times because that's what toddlers do: they repeat themselves. And I'm thinking to myself over cheerios, oh that's interesting. What interesting timing. Usually I'm with them, and not just beside them physically, but *with* them, in the most soul-connective, profoundly spiritual way you can be with folks at this time. And my daughter just happens to be uttering their names. 

Interesting. Kind of an under statement. 

Is my soul in her soul? I keep thinking about what we transfer. What lives on. What becomes (into) one from another. Does what we love become an object of affection in our children even before they can consciously choose to love that thing? I'm convinced that Aurora is not cognitively developed enough to put the multiple layers of time/place/relationship/face/name together in a conscious way (yet). Even so here she is at 19 months articulating, perfectly, the names of my Sunday morning companions, these men who have become more than colleagues, more than anything I can describe with words. Doing collaborative ministry (in the way we do) affords bonds between those ministering together that simply cannot be described. But I'll try. 

Pastor teams see birth and death and abuse and liberation together, concretely, first hand. You pray with those dying on your knees together. You pour water on newborns, passing fresh flesh, one saying God, one saying Christ, one saying Holy Spirit together. You hear about people's trauma history in the same room and cry together in complete surrender to wordlessness, wishing you still believed in omnipotence. You watch together as people you love pick up the shards of glass that accumulate at their feet after divorce or being fired and you watch them take the tools of faith and their relationship with G-d and you watch them rebound beyond everyone's expectations. Pastor teams survive incredible upheaval and betrayal in the institution you serve together and become each other's only sources of sanity in those times. You have conflict with each other, sometimes big and sometimes small, but come out on the other side, better, with a greater appreciation for the diversity you bring and how that serves the collective better than any of you could as a solo pastor. Together. You serve a Great Great God and sometimes you witness that Greatness in the midst of your collaboration and other times you witness that Greatness in spite of it, which makes the belief in Greatness even more palpable. What I am trying to say here is that my relationships with Tom and Tommy, my love of them, is something very particular. It's a togetherness of profound power. And it's at its zenith on Sunday mornings. 

So when my daughter starts calling their names when we are completely separate from the environment in which those relationships and that love usually flourish, I am struck by how that power might have made itself known to her. And then it has me questioning the whole freakin enterprise of spiritual power and parenting. Like, what kind of love relationships did I inherit from my parents? I found out recently that my biological father had a love of W.E.B Dubois and James Baldwin. My biological father who never spent a full day of his life with me. And yet, when I read Baldwin, and commingle with other folks for whom Baldwin's writings are important, I can feel this bone-deep sense of connection with something that transcends and yet lives inside of me. Did I inherit that love? 

All this to say: how it gets transmitted is a total mystery to me. But the fact that love gets passed on is of no question. As I sit here on the verge of giving birth to yet another gift/child, I'm more encouraged than ever that resurrection is real. Or, in the words of Mumford & Sons: "In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die. Where you invest your love, you invest your life." Amen.     

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Wisdom Lovingly Addresses Impatience

Today is your due date. Isaiah is "supposed" to be born according to some measuring mechanism that Ob/Gyn's use to predict these things. You have been intensely waiting for his arrival about 5 days now. You've even had some rounds of contractions that turned into nothing. Yesterday you had a burst of energy that might be classified as "nesting syndrome" given that you shopped, cleaned, organized and reorganized things that didn't even need to be touched. You've been craving apple sauce every single day for 4 days in a row. This morning you woke up sluggish and out of sorts, ready to weep at the drop of a hat or at the thought of your spouse. There have been moments lately when you've had some clarity about how bio-chemical this all is. Those tend to be the moments when you feel the most sane, the most "in control" and as if all is right with the world. Something about metacognition that renders peace. But it is increasingly the case that you are not experiencing moments like this, that you are instead having heightened anxiety, that you are experiencing yourself the object of something Larger than yourself instead of the subject of your own choosing. And you, my dear, hate that shit. 


Well I imagine it's because you feel like a fool for being *that* person. That person who preaches faith and surrender and letting go every single day/week to/for others but who struggles to do so herself and then feels all kinds of shame about it. Yep: you're that person, that pastor, that womyn, that mom, that wife, that friend, that hypocrite, that human. Welcome to the club. Welcome to the experience of living. 

For some reason, you still manage to sit with the Grand Illusion that you are the master of your destiny. In this case you seem to think you are the master of Isaiah's destiny too. Reality check: not so much. You do everything from reading books about birth to recollecting how Aurora's birth went down to listening to other people's stories about birth--all in an attempt to predict how things are going to be. Here are some of the mental narratives and projections you've conjured up so far in an attempt to stifle your impatience: he'll come when I leave work; he'll come when the moon is full; he'll come on the 19th in honor of my father; he'll come at my next Ob appointment because they'll induce me; he'll come on the due date because it's the due date. Wrong wrong wrong wrong. There's nothing that can take away the mystery of this occasion. And if you want wisdom over worry, you'll invite and flourish in that mystery instead of trying to extinguish it.    

Remember on Tuesday how you went to Kellogg Forrest, all by yourself? How you walked slowly and intentionally, like Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, noticing every step? How the trees were fluorescent, and the air was spiritual magic, like Sherwood Forrest meets Eden? The ground at your feet rolled out like a patchwork carpet of red and yellow and orange and brown leaves. With every inhale and exhale, with every extension of your neck to look above and below and all around, you found yourself connecting with this Eternal promise of "what will be will be." Remember how that comforted you? How you went to your favorite tree in that place, the big one that shoots branches out in every single direction, a tree that dares to be huge and bursting in the midst of other trees that are kinda plain and boring? Remember how you uttered a prayer, in the open bosom of that tree's presence, about wanting to trust G-d, about wanting to trust the natural rhythms inside you that connected you to all that beauty surrounding you in that moment? Yeah, remember that. 

Remember the Earth. 
Remember the trees of Fall, how they let go when it's time and when they do, it's perfectly beautiful. 
Remember the words of Luke: "Blessed is she who believed that The Lord would fulfill his promises to her." 
Remember that this is mystery and mystery is what makes life worth living. 

Oh and remember: sometimes we feel anxiety because we care, a whole lot, about the source of the anxiety, which in this case is your child and J.R.'s child and Aurora's brother and Vivian & Marty's grandson and Susan's nephew. So be gentle with yourself because this makes a whole lot of sense. Anxiety makes sense right now, just don't be ruled by it right now. 

Remember what all those wonderful and messed up recovering drunks taught you, that thing that saved your life back in 2001 and continues to save your life every time you choose it: Let go, Let G-d.  

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Last Days: Twilight

Yesterday marked 19 years of my father being gone from this Earth. Well, one of my father's anyways. William Arthur McGaughy died on October 19th of 1994. He raised me from the age of 2 until the age of 13. That's eleven years of fathering I received from him. He wasn't my biological father. And he never formally adopted me. But in eleven years, he managed to have incredible impact on my development. 

Which has me thinking about parenting and biology versus presence/influence. Like, does sperm or day to day have more power? Yes, this is nature versus nurture. Seems to me like both are hella significant. 

Which has me thinking about J.R. and our/my daughter and his other daughter.  

Which has me thinking about my dead father/s and my soon-to-be-born son. 

I've had this suspicion, all along, that unborn babies and dead ancestors reside in the same space. Can't remember if I've ever written about this at length, but if I have, sorry for the repetition. Anyways: I think there's a Beyond where those who have gone before us dwell with those who will soon be on their way. I think there's an ushering that happens, when a baby is born. That the ancestors of that child, gather together in a sacred huddle, scoop up the spirit of the not-yet-born, and bring it to the precipice of entry. I believe this. I do. 


Well, because I'm a pastor. And if nothing else, being a pastor affords some extremely unique insights into the broad spectrum of life, including twilight moments in people's lives/families. For instance, when Andria & Tom Ryberg's daughter Ellie was born, I had the unparalleled gift of greeting her in the Ryberg household on her very first day of life. Her newness, her 'just arrived' energy textured the entire home. All I can say is that it feels like twilight, or as Barbra Brown Taylor would say "a thin space" where the distinctions between "Heaven and Earth" are temporarily suspended. I've also read Islamic mystics write about this phenomenon using the term "veil." Like, the veil that covers the Divine Face or the veil that boundaries here and Beyond from one another drops. So yeah, newborn energy is like that. There's an eerie and elated coating of and in the air. A presence. Palpable. But here's the significant thing: the energy of the room where someone has just died is exactly the same. It just so happens that the day I met Ellie Ryberg is the same day that a beloved older member of our church had just died in his room at the local nursing home. I went from laying hands on and doing last rites/ish with a dead body at 4pm to holding a newborn in my arms at 7pm. The energy in their respective spaces was the exact same. I repeat: the sacred energy of newborns and the newly dead is exactly the same. 

Because I am writing here about something that only exists for a brief moment in time, a reality that is all together rare and accessed (only) twice in a person's life, I am hard-pressed to have any language that works in describing it. How do you describe that moment when the day light and dark cross each other and entirely cancel each other out in the fullness of their being? You can't. You just keep your eye on the sky, right? Right. So on that day, when Ellie was born, and Mr. Fox died, I felt for the very first time the twilight phenomenon of birth and death, the crossing over and the accompanying spirit that ushers it all in/out. And since then I've been with a whole bunch of newborns and a whole bunch of dead bodies (never again on the same day, though) and I've been paying very very strict attention to that energy because I think it has something to offer/teach/reveal. 

This morning I got a text from my enduring and faithful friend Julian. He remembers October 19th every year. He remembers my father and remembers my father's death and he remembers to let me know that he remembers. I cannot express in words how much that memorializing presence of his impacts me. Julian is the only one, besides my mother, who takes the time to acknowledge the immense influence my father and my father's death had on me and on the world. The outside acknowledgment itself does a work of healing, and in some ways brings my father's life into a more tangible place to be touched by me (now, today, even though he's no longer here). 

But this morning, this year, it was different. Like I said, Julian remembers every year. But this year I'm pregnant. Like, full term pregnant, about to give birth any second. And I'm pregnant with a boy-child. This juxtaposition of space/time/birth/death in the realm of the masculine gave me pause. Neither of my father's are on this Earth. Neither is J.R.'s father on this Earth. They have all crossed over. They are not here. Which in some ways causes a stirring of grief so deep in me, so familiar and life-long, that I almost cannot witness (to) it. But it also makes me think about that accompanying spirit/s that will be present in the birth-room. I shot Julian a text back about hoping that my father (and since then I've been praying that J.B. Schwartz, my biological father, and Joseph Reynolds II, J.R.'s father) will be Isaiah's ushering guides to the precipice of this Earth. All day I have been envisioning those three men bringing my son home to life in the sturdiness of their celestial grip. The vision brings comfort. The vision brings power. 

Just for that fleeting moment, when we are all there together--the ancestors, the living, the newly born--I hope we are all able to recognize, revel in and release each other in the ways we need to for the next round of generational unfolding to happen with grace. I hope they can feel me reaching as I am pushing. I hope they can feel me opening to their passage as I am stretching my body like never before. I hope, in the holiness of twilight, that we are all forgiven. That we are all forgiven. Forgiven and set free. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Writing Isaiah Entry #22

Writing Isaiah 
Entry #22
October 14th, 2012

Well, my sweet boy, you are the final entry. When I place the period on the last sentence of this particular blog, addressed to you, the Writing Isaiah project will be complete. I gotta tell ya: this is one of the coolest things I've ever done. One of the most life giving writing endeavors I've ever engaged. Thanks for the inspiration! I pray that when you read these some day a picture, no a collage, of incredible meaning and value, of insight, understanding and even mystery unfolds for you. I hope you have lines of sight to the incredible people who have provided prompts, people I love with my whole heart, people who already love you and will hopefully still be around when you're old enough to read their submissions. I hope you get a glimpse of how beyond blessed I felt by my pregnancy with you. I hope you understand me, your momma, a little better in and through these writings. More than anything, if you're reading this, if you're "here," I hope you know how much I love you, that my love for you was alive and well-kindled before I ever saw your face. I hope these blogs speak the language of my love for you and that you receive it, fully. And that in receiving it you recognize something about your own lovableness which inspires you to become even more boldly who you are. 

We found out about you on Valentines Day. That set a precedent. I'm not sure you can ever fully comprehend all of the things you've set in motion with your becoming/presence. But it's all love. All love. That holiday was never anything more than bullshit Hallmark heterosexist sentimentality to me until this year. Now it's all love. Because of you. 

You are going to arrive in October. There's so much herstory/history, family stuff, in this month. This is the month of your grandma Marty's birthday, your grandparents anniversary, your grandpa's death. It is the month when the leaves change and the world explodes in color so exquisite you can't help but weep sometimes. October is the place where grief and beauty dance together in the face of winter. Learn that dance well, my son, it will serve you. Your ancestors are in it. Watch for them in the trees and listen for them in old church hymns that make you cry for no apparent reason. Let your body be moved always like the Earth is moved in Fall. I can give you no more important advice. 

There are so many things I could tackle here. I could write entire blogs to you about how afraid I am to raise a boy (a boy!) given my horrendous past with male identified folks. I could spend time trying to explain why I'm a pastor even though it drives me incredibly nuts a lot of the time. I could write about the state of America for black men (of course from my limited white perception) and how that strikes an ongoing fear and fierce commitment in my mother's heart. I could write about what I want for you, my dreams for your future. But all of that feels overly presumptuous or something.

Instead, I'm going to admit the most honest, basic thing I've got. My excitement. Which in some ways I owe to your sister. Let me explain...

When I was pregnant with Aurora there were things I imagined about becoming a mother, about becoming her mother, that actually came true. And trust me: they were worth being excited about! She is a thrill! A miracle in skin, blessing my world backwards and forwards and every which way. But there were things to come through her, with her, because of her, from inside of her that I couldn't even have imagined. Things that now make me wonder how I ever lived without them. Like her little voice in the back seat singing "twinkle twinkle little star." Like the way she grabs her daddy's face and draws him in for a kiss in the morning. Like her new obsession with swaddling Gaia (our dog) with blankets we used to swaddle her in during the first months of her life. Like her smile and bright eyes that have softened every place in my (formerly) hard ass self. I couldn't have known, before the flesh and blood Truth of her outside my body became a reality, all of the things in store for us as a family, for me as a mother, for her as an emerging entity unique and pure. 

Because I have gone through it once before, I know now that there are things about you that I cannot even faintly conceive of that will change me, change JR, change Aurora, and change the world forever in ways that are good, profound, beautiful and True. I am excited about that. I am excited for you, about you. 

In closing, I want to offer you/us a prayer for our closing hours/days/weeks of being housed together in this body of mine and for your birth/delivery:

young one whose name means
"YHWH is Salvation"--
may you get everything you need
sustenance, growth, rest and readiness
from all that I am 
and all that G-d is
in these final times
and may it give you everything you need
motivation, sustaining momentum and power
to work your way, your splendid way, 
into this world. 
May you know that what lies within me
pales in comparison 
to the miracles awaiting you out here.
May we find each other, 
on that great day 
you breathing for the first time
me having lost my breath
in a mess of fluids and tides of grace
entirely new through the oldest miracle there is--
Come, beautiful child, come. 
Without fear, without compromise, 
make your way, your splendid way. 

Let's do this. I love you.