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Back Down the Mountain

Not quite 100 of us gathered at Lutheridge this weekend for the Create In Me retreat. Not quite 10 of us were men. This blog is about women.

As I schlepped my stuff to my car this morning, I met a woman doing the same. She shook her head a bit and said, “This is the sad part.” I didn’t know what to say. I suppose I nodded and said, “Yah,” or something deeply pastoral like that. I wasn’t feeling sad, and it hadn’t occurred to me that others would be gloomy about leaving this morning.

Mary on Porch

A few minutes later, we gathered for worship on the porch of the Faith Center. People were kind of quiet as more of us arrived, offering hugs and admiring the fountain Mary (our retreat leader) and her team had crafted on the altar they had fashioned on the porch. I noticed a tenderness there on that patio, a clinging I suppose.

  • Let me pause here to say in seminary we were taught that one of the greatest gifts pastors can bring to a community is being a “non-anxious presence” for those who are in crisis of any sort. When tensions are high for any reason, standing in the middle of the tension and not bringing any of your own – provides the situation with a groundedness, a place to find a bit of balance when things are shifting.

Pastor Mary Canniff-Kuhn has this gift. She brings it everywhere she goes. And she brought it to the porch this morning when the anxiety of leaving such a sacred place was building. When people began to feel a little short of breath, Mary stood there being the non-anxious oxygen they needed.

In order to have a sense of why they might be sad to leave this morning, let me offer you a glimpse of our weekend together.

Jennifer lettering

We came to be creative, and creativity requires vulnerability. For three days, we moved through time and space together dipping brushes in paint and pinching clay between our fingers. Each room we entered was set up for creativity, some with a resident artist ready to teach us a hands-on lesson about sculpture or fanciful lettering or fabric embellishment, some with drop-in stations with materials and directions there on the table…and the opportunity to experiment and create. Because creativity is not only about art we can see and touch, there were workshops on meditation and the art of having faithful, difficult conversations.

Each thing we tried was deemed worthy of being in the gallery. Ours was not a gallery of perfection, but a gallery of exploration and creativity.

Art Gallery
Our gallery was empty when the weekend began. We filled it with ourselves.

We sang, we danced, we laughed, we tried new things, we ate exquisite food and gathered regularly for prayer and worship. We were nourished in every way God nourishes people.

So, when it all was coming to an end, there was a shift in the way people moved, spoke, stood together. And I looked around the circle on that porch and wondered about the women there. I didn’t know most of them before this weekend, and unless I sat at an art table with them and chatted, I don’t know much about their lives back home. So, this next part is fiction. Except it’s not. I don’t know which woman might fit which description, but I’d wager mightily that a group like ours holds all of these and more.

One of my sisters spent a whole weekend never once getting yelled at. She came and went as she pleased, and no one berated her for being too slow or too sloppy or too anything-at-all.

One of my sisters spent a whole weekend using the parts of her brain she shelved when she discovered making art for a living is risky and not a sure thing. Her job pays the bills, but it does not call upon the vast and varied gifts she often forgets she has tucked away in her gorgeous self.

hand painting

One of my sisters spent a whole weekend being cared for – rather than being a caregiver. She didn’t know how tired she was until she fell into bed Thursday night and nobody needed her, not even once, in the middle of the night. She woke up Friday morning and made her way to the dining hall where a huge breakfast buffet was waiting there for her. She ate her fill and looked around to see where to put her dirty dishes, and she was told to just leave it on the table. It would be cleared for her; maybe she would like to grab a cup of coffee on her way out? Clean mugs, coffee, and all the fixings were available to her all weekend. The only medication she managed all weekend was her own multivitamin and her low dose of a cholesterol med.

One of my sisters spent a whole weekend on her own schedule – rather than running a household with school-aged children. She didn’t carpool on Friday morning or pack lunches or remind anyone at all that she would be back to pick them up for their orthodontist appointment after 2nd period. She moved from station to station enjoying her time, remembering the art she used to make. It took her most of Friday to let go of the ever-present-responsibility she carries around. She went to the Jams and Jellies workshop and didn’t worry about little hands near the boiling sugar.

Naomi creating

One of my sisters is sick. Her physical health is an everyday struggle. She doesn’t always sign up for church events or retreats because she knows it will just be one more time when she has to say, “you go on without me” on that hike or across the campus or back to the car. This weekend, she got her body to one huge room filled with light and laughter and art supplies. She sat at one table for as long as she liked, then she walked a few feet to another opportunity to learn something new. If her bladder called her to the bathroom every 30 minutes, fine. If her ankle hurt and needed to be propped on a chair, fine. If sitting was hard, and she needed to walk around while the Bible study leader was teaching, fine. If she got too tired, and she needed to back to her room for a nap, fine.

One of my sisters spent a whole weekend feeling loved in the way she loves others, but doesn’t always receive. When she turned the key and opened the door to her room, she found a sweet note of welcome and a gift basket. When she arrived in the Faith Center, she was told right away that the markers and paper on the table were for her use – and that she was welcome to use them while people were speaking and teaching if she likes to draw and listen. She made a cup of tea from the counter with coffee and tea people had prepared for her. When she went to the restroom for the first time, she saw they had even provided a basket of things she may need during the weekend: cough drops, mouthwash, hand lotion, feminine hygiene products, and such! On the second day, she saw a note on the counter where the coffee is kept. It said, “In case your roommate snores,” and accompanied a container of ear plugs! Our sister who always thinks of others…felt cared for.

Snacks
fresh berries and vanilla yogurt for a snack

One of my sisters spent a whole weekend not worrying about money. Everything she needed was provided. The delectable food Chef Cliff prepared for each meal all felt like she was eating in a fantastic restaurant – which she never does. The art supplies at every single table were just there to be used! She could create one thing at each table…or more if she wanted, no cost to consider. There was fresh fruit over on a table all day, every day. Each afternoon and evening, someone would set out fun snacks to nibble. There was an offering at worship. She may have put some money in the plate; I don’t know or care.

One of my sisters spent a whole weekend feeling understood. She’s an artist. She creates things. The people in her life think that’s cute, but they don’t really “get” her, that she NEEDS to create things, that her intention and money and time is spent creating. And, y’know, her art isn’t the kind that every immediately loves. It’s not rainbows and butterflies and nice clean lines and the like. It’s dark sometimes, and it’s always layered, and people often look at it with furrowed brows. They don’t get it. So, they don’t get her. This weekend, when she grabbed the supplies intended for one thing and created something altogether her, her sisters said things like, “How did you do that!?” and “Did you wait between coats to get that effect?” and “Will you show me?”

Coaster Table

One of my sisters spent a whole weekend with her nose 10 inches from an art project and (for the most part) laid aside how much she misses her late husband. She wasn’t at home where his empty chair sits in the damn corner mocking her. When it was time for a meal, she didn’t have to decide what to make – and remember to only make one portion instead of two. His after shave wasn’t sitting on the counter top in her Lutheridge room. She didn’t take the chipped plate out of the cupboard, remembering when he lost his grip on it, landing it in the sink. He was present with her during worship; he always is. But, for long stretches at the art tables, her grief wasn’t quite so heavy.

Worship

One of my sisters spent a whole weekend not thinking, talking, reading, or arguing about politics. Her attention was on color and texture and pattern and technique. Her opinions were about those things, too. It was a relief to stop checking her phone and reading the latest news.

So, my sisters were teary this morning. Damn right they were. Driving down the mountain back into the fray is hard. The Sabbath is holy, the retreat is nourishing, and the time away so important. But, in some ways, time away manages to underscore the ways we are tired, worried, scared, and invisible.

A prayer for us as we re-enter our lives down the mountain: May the ways we have been nourished and nurtured during the Create In Me retreat stick to us like Mod Podge, make us sparkle like glitter, stitch us together like the hook and fingers that crochet. May we be granted courage to remember Who and Whose we are, created creatures who co-create with God. May we mark our calendars for next year, declaring our intention to carve out space to be seen and loved…and see and love others…right as we are. And until next year, may God grant us peace in the chaos. Amen.

SELFIE

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ELCA/Portico Biometric Screening

We clergy folk are among the least healthy folk.

(Don’t believe me? Here’s just one piece of journalism about it.)

I’m a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and my church is doing what it can to help me be healthy. Our benefits services include a “Call to Live Well”, with an abundance of resources for our spiritual, financial, emotional, social, intellectual, vocational, and physical health.

We have financial advisors, our health insurance covers services for emotional and mental health, and we are offered lots of opportunities for continuing education and even sabbaticals for our intellectual and vocational health.

It seems we might have a hard time taking advantage of the benefits regarding our physical health. Each year, they try something new to get us to pick up good habits, drop bad habits, and make good choices about our physical health.

Each year, there is a different challenge which literally pays off if you do it.

One year, we were asked to start and chart a new habit for 6 weeks: drinking more water (and less soda and Starbucks), tracking what we eat, walking more, attending to our sleep habits, etc.

That same year, we could choose, instead, to stop something: drinking sugary drinks, smoking, fast food, etc.

Upon completion of the 6 weeks, we were to log in to our benefits account, self-report what we had done, and write a few sentences about what we learned about ourselves while we did it.

I can’t remember the exact amount, but I think it was about $300 of Wellness Dollars. And when my husband was alive, he was eligible, also. So, each year, we earned hundreds of Wellness Dollars, which can be spent on medical expenses.

We used to take a wellness assessment online also (for more Wellness Dollars). One year, my health assessment resulted in the shocking news that I needed to exercise more! So, they let me have coach who set some goals with me, and then checked in with me each week over the phone to see how things were going. (Having the coach was completely my choice; nothing was required in that way.)

Things have changed a bit each year, as they work to find ways to help us be healthier.

This year, there are two ways to earn $200 Wellness Dollars.

  • $400 total
  • $800 if your spouse participates, too

ONE: Have a biometric screening.

TWO: Log in to your retirement account, make sure your retirement plan makes sense for your life plan, make any changes you might want to make, and when you click back to your Portico page – there are $200 Wellness Dollars in your account. Immediately. See? It probably took me 10 minutes to do a good thing for my financial life…and earn some money.

Okay, but what about the Biometric Screening? That sounds like way more work…and what’s it all about?

Seriously, it is not difficult. Here’s how it went for me:

I clicked on “Complete or review your biometric screening at Quest Diagnostics”, and it took me to a page where I could choose to:

  • print off a page and take it to my doctor to complete
  • find a diagnostic lab near me to complete it

I chose to just go to a lab near me, and right there online, chose a lab 1 mile from my house, selected an appointment for 2 days later, and received a confirmation email that my appointment had been set. Maybe 5 minutes for all that.

So, yesterday morning at 9:30, (having fasted after midnight and hydrated myself with plenty of water) I went to the lab near my house.

I signed in at 9:28.

She asked for a copy of my I.D.

I was called back into the office.

She measured my:

  • Height
  • Weight
  • Waist
  • Blood pressure

She drew 3 small vials of blood and asked for my signature.

By the time I got in my car, it was:

…and I went home to eat breakfast.

That was yesterday.

Today, I got this email in my inbox:


So, I clicked into it. Inside it was a link to the Portico site, where I logged in, and was able to view my results.

And it brought me to some pages of VERY EASY TO READ charts and explanations.

Here’s a page that says there is one area of my health that is out of the normal range when assessing for Metabolic Syndrome. I’ve cropped out all the personal information here, but the one area is my good cholesterol is too low. And it gives me suggestions for improving it.

If I click on the Heart Disease tab, it says 5 out of 5 of the criteria are in the normal range, so I don’t have an active risk of heart disease. Still, it suggests I get or remain active, taking walks, etc.

There is a one-page document that I saved to my computer in my “health” file. It simply lists my screening results in each category, and the normal range for reference.

So, I went to check to see if my $200 Wellness Dollars were in my account yet. But, I saw a notice there that said it may take 2 to 3 weeks to process that.

Why write all this here?

Because every year, some of my clergy friends do not claim this money.

Because all of us can use some help being healthier, and our employer is trying to help us.

Because I write things down sometimes.

Be gentle with you.

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Learning About Blogging

Are blogs too long?

I’m learning a bit about format in these past three days of writing and posting things to this blog. I write the blog in Microsoft Word, so when I’m typing it up, it just looks like a word document. When I’m typing away, I’m aware that I shouldn’t write too much, that when people write too much, I tend to scroll and skim a while. If it’s too long, I’ll just exit out of it. This has to do with my ever-shortening attention span, but it I think it also has to do with the device we are using. A 700 word document, like my Day 3 – Whole 30 blog, doesn’t look long on a laptop screen, but on a phone? Scrolling and scrolling.

It’s an interesting thing to learn. If I pick up a book about grace, I’m expecting to settle in and play the long game of learning what the author has to say. But, if I click on a friend’s blog entry about grace, my brain is not ready to sit around and deeply process it…not if I’m on my phone, that is.

So, where is the balance? If one has a crush on words, one may tend to spill too many on any given page. But, then, this is not Twitter. No one expects a blogger to truncate every thought and avoid metaphors because they take up unnecessary space. I think I’ll try some different lengths in the coming days. It may be very hard to keep it short – but it will be good practice.

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Be Gentle With You

My mind is pretty jumbly. It sometimes helps if I write things down. I could do that in a paper journal — but then I’ve done that eleventy times before. If you need a journal that is nearly empty but for the first 7 or 8 pages, I’m your girl.  So, maybe this kind of journaling will be better for me, OR maybe I’ll forget how to log in and leave this journal in the same pattern of the others…