A Graduation & a Confirmation in the Episcopal Church

May has been a pretty exciting (and also exhausting, chaotic, and full) month for us.

The morning after my last final exam we packed up our on-campus apartment and moved a few minutes down the road to a quiet neighborhood apartment. Our new space brought us a few new quirks but we’re settling in day by day.

About a week after we moved, I graduated with a Masters of Arts in Religion with a concentration on social ethics and spiritual formation. I chose these concentrations because I couldn’t justify their separation; ethics and spirituality are intricately linked and layered. Together they shape our behaviors and thoughts. Most of my courses and professors were amazing. There were a couple that gave me a headache. My favorite classes included church history, racial/gender justice, and various topics in the Old Testament.

Seminary was hard. As they graciously warn you, I left with more questions than answers. In the past 2 years, Aaron was away from home for 6+ months, in which I managed a multiple day power outage and shoveled out several feet of snow by myself. I took a summer intensive course for Hebrew 1 and 2. We changed churches a few times. We saw a marriage counselor. I got angry. Angry about the world, the church, and my own weaknesses. Burnout happened and I wanted to give up multiple times. Relationships disappeared. Our theology shifted. I cried, a lot.

But even when seminary cut deep, these past two years offered an unexpected healing. I was able to put words to my experience as a woman in the church and I was encouraged in my ability to think theologically, as a woman. I met women and men from around the world, friends and those who we now consider family, who laughed and wept with us and strengthened us when we couldn’t see the other side. I learned so much in class and through reading, but even more from those we lived and served with in our seminary community.

This month was significant again for another reason. Aaron was confirmed in the Episcopal church. If you’ve been following the progression of our faith, you know we’ve explored a few different traditions. We were hesitant to approach the Episcopal tradition because we had both grown up hearing episcopalians don’t really love Jesus. (What a lie.) The beauty of this tradition (and the body of Christ) is in it’s diversity in thought and community.

You’ll also notice only Aaron was confirmed. We’re both very satisfied in this new space, but since he wants to attend an episcopal seminary and pursue ordination in the coming years it was more important for him to take this step sooner than I might. Aaron affectionately calls me a crockpot or “turtle” and in many ways that’s very true. I tend take my time to simmer and think on something. When the time is right, I’ll think about the next step. For now, I’m still soaking up every bit of our Sunday services. (If you have questions about the Episcopal tradition or the progression of our faith, I’m happy to answer them.)

And finally, I turned 24 this month. My birthday began with an early morning walk around our new neighborhood and ended with gelato with Aaron and my parents. I’m not sure what this next year holds but it’s sure to be a good story.

Any fun milestones happen in your life recently?

Living an Unhurried Life

What would it look like to live life unhurried?

When I thought of 2019 I had this question come to my mind, especially the last word. I haven’t made New Year’s resolutions in a hot minute but I was willing to consider this.

I wanted my second year of seminary to be different. I wanted to avoid burnout at all costs. Now a couple weeks into January and half way through this second year I’ve already been tempted to jump 3 steps ahead of myself. My graduation date is set and my mind can only think of all the factors involved for a post-grad move, the next apartment, the next job, the next set of bills, and so on. I ended up writing down all the things I wasn’t allowed to worry about on a post-it note and stuck it on the fridge.

If I rush through my classes, or dinner, or my conversation with a friend, then I’m really not allowing myself to enjoy that person or meal in front of me, no matter how simple the interaction seems. I want to be present with those I’m with and in the work I do, otherwise it’s all meaningless. Living unhurried is trusting God’s timing and faithfulness over my own.

Photo: Morgan Sessions

This isn’t to say you won’t find me late and rushing to a meeting or procrastinating from day to day. (My entire life!) My point in this is to say that life is quick. We’re finite creatures. I don’t want to get so busy or overwhelmed that I miss what God put right in front of me.

It takes serious discipline to tame all the worries and focus on the task at hand. And it certainly doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s a muscle you have to continue to strengthen over the course of your life since there will always be new things to do and people to see.

I working on using some of these habits to slow down and savor where I’m at. I’m not perfect at any of them, but I invite you to try them with me.

  • Going on a walk outside. (Or a few minutes of stretching. Because New England winters.) Fresh air is underrated, especially on cooler days.
  • Setting aside social media for a period of time. I deleted the Instagram app off my phone at the beginning of January. Before that I combed through my followers/following and deleted over 400 accounts that did not “spark joy” as Marie Kondo would say. It felt good. I kept Facebook, which is the next app I’ll work on separating myself from. Maybe for Lent.
  • Practicing a consistent Sabbath. Everything is finished on Saturday or I won’t look at it until Monday. Sundays are now a favorite of mine. I look forward to spending a full day unhurried with Aaron and engaging with our church community.
  • Call a friend on the phone. Yes, the actual telephone! Aaron is much better at this than I am, but I’ll get there. A perfectly good substitution for a phone call is a handwritten note.
  • Carefully crafting my week. My explanation is oversimplified and it takes some tweaking, but I started to visually organize my weeks in a way that allows me to focus on a task at a time and balances the priorities in my life. My mind and body are way more focused and I feel more “productive,” which really means I’m more satisfied with the quality of work I produce, not the amount.
  • Grocery shopping with a purpose. Since the new year our kitchen has been primary Paleo and meal planning has become even more important. It’s been a kick in the pants to plan ahead. (Have you heard the phrase, fail to plan or plan to fail?)
  • Reading book in the evening. Screens are awful. News is not a bedtime story. Get off the phone, Elizabeth. Read a damn book.

…and a (responsible) glass of wine at the end of a long day might not hurt either.

What helps you slow down?

A Year of Bravery

This year has been one to remember.

2018 has felt almost like a desert with long dry patches of loneliness and heartache, stress and uncertainty. There have been moments of peace, like the day Aaron came home or time spent with family. These past 12 months have pushed me to redefine what success looks like and to reconsider what my faith in God looks like in the ordinary day to day. I’ve learned more about what I cannot do, rather than what I am able to do. (I have the hunch that this is all life ever teaches us and perhaps success is found where we least expect it.)

I’d like to think that I have been brave throughout most of my life so far, but this year held a few more opportunities to test that and this was also reflected in the books I read. (This is not to say the challenges in my life are anywhere near comparable to the stories of Dorothy Day or Howard Thurman, but they have been excellent examples of strength and courage.)

Here is a complete list of the 60 some books I read this year. (Isn’t Goodreads cool?) Sixty is quite a few, averaging a little more than a book a week, but I sure didn’t keep that pace. I reread several books. I fell deeper in love with the Chronicles of Narnia and Liturgy of the Ordinary and my perspective and understanding of Divided by Faith’s message and methodology shifted. Below are some books that really caught my attention.

Photo: Joyce McCown

In no particular order, these books shaped my 2018.

Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman

This is a small, but powerful book that helped continue to shape my understanding of racial reconciliation. I recommend this to anyone and everyone.

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

Corrie Ten Boom’s brave journey through the Holocaust emphasized human dignity, prayer, and forgiveness. I read it in one sitting.

The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day

I wrote a paper on Dorothy Day’s spirituality this past semester knowing little to nothing about her. She is one of my new heroines; she was incredible! This book is her autobiography. She wrote for a living, so just in case you fall in love with her, there are so many more chances to read about her life and faith.

The Story of Christianity, Volumes 1 and 2 by Justo Gonzalez

I believe studying church history made the difference for my faith. These books are easy to read volumes that are very engaging and well written. The chapters are pretty short, which I found helpful.

The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen by Lisa Gungor

I love just about anything put out by the Gungors. Lisa’s story is so beautifully written. I cried and laughed. In some ways it felt like she had been writing to me. I also read this in one evening. I couldn’t put it down.

A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

This book made more sense after getting married and walking through some other pain.  I sobbed all the way through. In contrast to The Problem of Pain, this book doesn’t try to make reasonable arguments about suffering. (Pain isn’t reasonable.) This story reveals how Lewis understood and handled his own grief after losing his wife.

Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women, and Queer Christians are Reclaiming Evangelicalism by Deborah Jian Lee

These stories are more common than white evangelicals might like to acknowledge. Lee’s book validated my own experience as a woman in the church. (!!!) The stories she presents are real and worth your time.

Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

This book is important. There is also a documentary based on this book, as well as another book written in response titled Half the Church.

The Next Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah

If you have not yet critiqued your Christian faith, or perhaps you have lost hope for evangelical Christianity, I would recommend this book. Rah is convicting, but also hopeful.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

This is a fictional story that captured my attention from the start. I haven’t read other books by this author, but I would dare believe this is her best book. This book made me squirm and at some points I wanted to throw my book across the room. This story is incredibly moving and all too real. The ending is unexpected, but worth it. Easily one of my favorites.

There are many other books I could have listed, but selected just a few that impacted me in specific ways. Each story was full of courage, despite the cost of sharing their experience or the pain of loss in their lives. Their examples dared me to be brave. Challenge yourself to read something out of the box in 2019 or find a reading challenge that keeps your eyes open for authors of color and stories of a different culture or ideology. Let me know what you find!

What did you read this year? 

In the Midst

Writing about something while you’re waist deep in the waters of transition isn’t always tidy. I don’t have any certain conclusion or deep insight to share, other than we’ve made some significant decisions this month — the outcomes of which we are still discovering.

I resigned from my job and we’re currently switching church communities. We’ve wrestled (hard!) with these decisions but knew we needed to adjust our priorities as we found gaps in our relationship, mental and emotional health, and spiritual growth. These gaps were incredibly discouraging as I felt stuck between everything on my calendar, a tricky commute, and a frequent lag in our communication. Inspired by Rory Gilmore, I made countless pro/con lists which eventually helped us see a clear distinction between our options.

Stepping away from my job has already given me time to build new friendships, read, talk walks around our beautiful neighborhood, and be more involved on campus. Our hope is to also explore a different tradition with our new church and become involved with the community there while Aaron considers ordination.

2018 has been the most challenging year yet for us. It’s required lots of flexibility, strength, and determination from both Aaron and I in all areas. So, we rest while we can. Maybe not for the entire academic year, maybe longer than we anticipate — either way we are thankful for an opportunity to try something different.

Farewell summer 2018. 

Rebalance, refreshment, refocus — all words I hope to describe this season with in the days and months to come.

Have you made any significant decisions recently? When was the last time you rested?

Knee Deep in Seminary

Seminary has already changed my mind about many things (the death penalty, meditation, body image, the importance of podcasts, etc.) even so, I still don’t drink coffee. I do not believe seminary is for everyone; sometimes I wonder if I belong here. But everyone, Christians especially, should do whatever they can to purse theological education (even if this looks like reading a chapter of a borrowed book during nap time.)

I thought you might like to glance at what books caught my attention during my first semester of seminary. Maybe you’ll find something to add to your shelf in 2018.

These five books have been the most impactful to me in 2017. In no particular order:

Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith

I enjoyed this book because it covered a broad range of issues relevant to anyone. It’s a good introduction to the conflict between evangelical Christianity and the environment, women, race, peoples of other faiths, and members of the LGBTQ community. This text also highlights the importance of corporate and individual confession and lament. (Each chapter is brief, so I encourage you to pick up other books that dive deeper into the individual points.)

Waking Up White

Speaking of diving deeper, this author rushes in with full force and reveals how she has been shaped by an American system that favors the white community over any other ethnic group. Many of her childhood and college memories resonated with me and my personal experiences as a white person. This book is important in beginning to understand racial reconciliation.

Divided By Faith

If you’re curious about the macro perspective of the evangelical church’s response to racial reconciliation, this is a fascinating read. This book is written as a result of a research project. I feel this text is a must read for anyone who works in the local church, whether you’re the front door volunteer or the senior pastor.

Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics

You’ll have to trust me if you decide to pick this up. The first few chapters are heavy with academic language/vocabulary, but they are extremely important to truly understand the debate of personhood, abortion, IVF treatments, and cloning, which are discussed in the second half of the book. This book deepened my faith immensely.

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices for Everyday Life

(This book was one of my favorite Christmas presents in 2016, but I finished reading it last January so I happily thought to include it in this list.) Maybe you did not grow up in the church, or perhaps you are most familiar with a non-liturgical Christian community, either way – – this book is incredible. Written by a female Anglican priest (hello!), she points out how everyday routines can become expressions of worship/prayer to God. Beautiful book. Easy, easy read. Buy two copies, you’ll want to share.

I didn’t get a chance to read many books in 2017 (quality over quantity?), but if you’re interested in seeing a complete list, click here to visit my year in books.

Do you have any book suggestions for 2018?