Thursday, January 26, 2012

Practice Makes IMperfect.... Week 15-ish of sabbatical

Well, I am counting down the weeks LEFT in my sabbatical now. Not altogether with trepidation, because I am actually feeling energized and ready to get back to work. I love almost everything about what I do and the people I do it with, especially the women who are my staff team. Sometimes I just marvel at how our church and I could be so blessed to have such a group of intelligent, compassionate, and courageous women serving us. They are beyond compare.
Replace Terese with Kate! We need a new Staff photo...

It's a bit like getting to what you think might be the halfway point in life, passing the middle of one's sabbatical. I make a bucket list: what had I hoped to accomplish that I haven't yet done? My goals were a bit ambitious. I will not be going to Haiti, not now, but I have made several solid contacts for a future trip. I didn't work on Mountain Top Removal, as I had hoped to. Part way into the time, I realized that the sabbatical needed to be a little more inwardly focused, so I put the service and advocacy dreams on the back burner.

There will always be social justice work to do...

I did renew my primary spiritual practice, which is Buddhist meditation, and, most importantly, found a potential sangha with which to share this important part of my life... there are days when I think that if that were all I had accomplished, it would be enough! I feel very blessed to have found a great teacher and a place to learn and practice not far from home.

This is actually Ireland, not Kentucky.

What happens with a regular meditation practice differs with each individual, of course, but I think it is safe to say that with regular and diligent practice, destructive habit energy is minimized and positive ways of approaching life and its challenges gradually emerge. For me, that means I become less perfectionist and more accepting of imperfection (aka being human), my own as well as others'. I find that I am more tolerant, patient, and content. I notice that many times my thoughts of discouragement, worry, anxiety, or fear can be easily transformed into gratitude and even delight.

Eric, Cyn, Marjorie, Colin & Seth at Mar's HS graduation.

For example, it's not easy living in a small modular home this muddy and rainy winter with FIVE people (during the month Marjorie was home) and two indoor animals. But I have so much to be grateful for. My children love each other unconditionally.
Seth & Marjorie

Seth has so many people who adore and care for him. His life, which may very well have turned out quite differently, is full of people, extended family and caregivers and teachers who cherish him for who he is. I can't say enough about the school he attends, North Washington County Elementary! (If you click here,, you will see his Principal kissing a pig which is held by the Asst. Principal.) I couldn't have asked for a group of people who are more nurturing, patient, and giving. I feel that my life has come full circle, and my youngest child will be blessed with the same small town, K-8 country school atmosphere that I grew up in. Beyond compare!

Some of the UUCL Worship Associates!

I am also grateful for the amazing Worship Team and all of the Board and Leadership at UUCL who have carried on with such incredible efficiency and perseverance so that I can enjoy this respite. Toni O' Neil! .. and everyone who is working hard to keep the momentum going.

I regularly thank the universe for my good husband, who is really enamored with our Seth, and puts a huge amount of energy into his care, for my daughter Marjorie, who is out there taking life by the horns with courage and grit, and, I must admit most of all, for my sons, who have given me the greatest gift I could ever receive, and one I had almost given up on, their sobriety. I know we are all blessed far beyond anything we deserve. Who needs perfection? Life is very, very good.

Casey with his friends, the incomparable Jennifer & Joan, and the birdhouse he made them for Xmas.

See you all soon!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

WEIRD LITTLE WAYS. 14 weeks in...

By Pema Chodron


"Although it is embarrassing and painful, it is very healing to stop hiding from yourself. It is healing to know all the ways that you shut down, deny, close off, criticize people, all your weird little ways. You can know all that with some sense of humor and kindness. By knowing yourself, you’re coming to know humanness altogether."

(Start Where You Are)
From Shambhala Heart Advice of the Week

I like to organize things. This is what I did with Seth's LEGOS (most handed down from Casey, Colin & Marje). They are organized by size and shape (not color...!!) I guess you could say this is one of my weird little ways. Is it a virtue or a vice? Like SOOOO many things (thinking, for example) it can be an important component of a healthy, balanced life, but it could, if taken too far, overwhelm your life, your time, your family... and be a self-defeating behaviour.

Also, I have learned that it is impossible to organize UUs and/or UU congregations.

What Pema Chodron is talking about is what happens to us when we dedicate some time each day, each week, to meditation and endeavor to live a life of mindful awareness and HONESTY.

She is so right.. it can be PAINFUL and EMBARRASSING.

This is Seth and Eric watching TV and eating popcorn.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying food and nothing wrong with watching a bit of TV. But Buddhism teaches rightly that TV (especially certain programs), addictions, especially alcohol, drugs, and food, and certain kinds of technology are ALL ways that humans escape our true humanity, and hide from our true selves.

Meditation and mindfulness are so helpful when it comes to managing, not necessarily eliminating completely, these sources of shutting down.

So, one goal of a sabbatical is to create the space and the time to be truly uncomfortable, to face and move through the painful realities of your own weird little ways, to become more human.

Below is our Nativity scene as it looked when I put it away (organizing!). Where was Mary going? She looks like she is creeping away from the manger. I can SO identify with this! Mary will NEVER be anything other than Jesus' mum. At 14, all of her dreams were pre-eliminated. I took the picture because it really triggered a strong reaction in me: Get outta there, Mary! Go while you can!

Now everyone who knows me knows how devoted I am to my children. On Feb. 1st, Casey will turn THIRTY and Seth will be seven. I will have been a mom with kids dependent upon me for 30 years straight. Ministry has been such a gift to me, because it has given me a way to be someone else, too, and to serve and give to people beyond my own four children. But sabbatical has been a time to step back from THAT identity, to ask who/what else am I in addition to being a UU minister?

When my days as a parish minister end, will I be just a mom, waiting to be a grandmom? How will I use the gifts and skills that ministry has helped me find? These questions can be answered most cleary and HONESTLY with a regular meditation practice and a TEACHER/Guide.

I have been thinking a great deal about eggs  because we are finding about three a day, courtesy of our chickens.

We hatched the chicks and roosters in July from eggs, so what a miraculous and yet simple event it is to see the cycle come full around. Life is such as this. We take on these identities and facades, but as we quiet down in our later years, we come back in some ways to who we always were.

Who I have always been is still within me, improved and burnished, I hope, and cleared of a few of the worst of my flaws, but nonetheless quite clear. I am a reader and a thinker who absolutely loves to study. I am creative and my creativity mostly leads to writing and cooking. I love children and old people. I love stories. I am a collector of history and family photographs. I love to travel and meet new people even though I am by nature extremely shy. I am optimistic, too honest at times, faithful, a caretaker, moody, reclusive, and slightly impulsive. I have a well of joyful expression that likes most of all to dance and cavort outside. I am happiest away from crowds and with easy access to trees and flowers and rocks. I am passionate about honesty and truth-telling. I LOVE to laugh.

Below is a house that I adore, not far from our farm.

If/when we sell our house in Lexington, we will build a house on our farm, and making the plans is a true opportunity to assess what is of value and to prioritize the remaining years of your life.

When I was ordained, I was told by a mentor that ministry is the only job where you are paid to be a human being. Sounds easy? It ain't! To be fully human is very hard, and the work of a lifetime.

Finally, a question that arose: Did I disengage from the congregation in order to conduct this experiment in being human? I would say yes and no. Not a day has passed that I did not think with love, pride, concern, worry, fear, or delight upon members of our church. Yet, when I was called to return rather quickly to my minister-identity in order to help with Nancy's memorial service, I found it a strangely disorienting experience to put that persona back on. It was like trying to find a path back to the main trail when hiking, or like trying to come up from a dream when in a deep sleep. I realized how disengaged I had become, not from the people but from the ROLE. What that tells me is that my return to being human is a success, and I only pray that I can carry its lessons back into my ministerial duties!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

SABBATICAL WEEK 12: Halfway... and a New Year's wish.

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

- Neil Gaiman

This post WOULD have been up a week ago, had my Internet here at Innisfree not been misbehaving. Turns out, I had moved the lil MIFI gadget because of all of our Christmas decorations and now that I've put it back where it was, all is well. Some things have much simpler solutions than we imagine!

(The egg above is the first one produced by our chickens, you remember the ones that we hatched from eggs last Spring? Doesn't Eric look like a proud papa?)

This is an angel mouse... Seth and I made it and he gave it to his teacher. I try to make all our craft projects out of things we already have around. This was made with bits of paper, old wrapping paper, cardboard cut from cereal and cracker boxes, glue & a bit of glitter. I don't believe in angels, exactly, but I believe in Grace. Tell you why.

Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle, curved tunnels of leaf miners on the surface of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what's going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise. ~ Annie Dillard

Casey, Seth, Marjorie & Eric ~~ Christmas Eve 2011

Christmas Eve bonfire after church service: Innisfree

Casey & Seth, my oldest & youngest, both born on February 1st.

Casey gave (almost) everyone tools. Seth wore his carpentry apron all day!

Duchess has one talent... she can open presents! Casey & Colin.

Colin gave almost everyone POLO clothes/shoes/accessories. Mar gave almost everyone SMITH COLLEGE wear!
My kids. Everyone together on Xmas day, all are clean & sober. Grace of God and the miracle of the AA programs. This is  a first in at least ten years. SOOOOOOO blessed, and they have worked so hard. Believe me when I say I never thought it would happen.

This is my cat Vashti, ready to sit near me while I finish out all the reading I have planned for my dwindling sabbatical afternoons! See you all... SOON!

PS. Don't forget to surprise yourself!!