November 5, 2014

Finding Confidence and Claiming Identity

Last April, I wrote about an event I witnessed at the Subway near my church.  An older, deaf man collapsed while in front of me in line.  As other people around me rushed to fulfill positions (a medical professional ran to his aid, someone grabbed a chair for the man, the Subway worker called 911), I stood there, wondering what to do.  Here is what I wrote about this:

What was my role in this moment?  As a pastor, did I have a task I should be doing?  Should I comfort the wife, who was standing by her husband looking frightened and confused?  That would require pushing through the throng which surrounded the man in the chair.  I didn't know her, and she didn't know me.  There was nothing about me that identified me as a pastor, as a person who seeks ways to help.

I've been thinking about this story a lot as I've been getting used to my role as a chaplain at the children's hospital.  Reading this story again, I realize that yes, I could have gone to the wife and introduced myself to her.  I could have held her hand as others cared for her husband.  I could have - but the me of last April would not have done, and did not do that.

What I was missing at that moment was not only confidence in myself, but confidence in my identity.  Sure, it's easy to identify yourself as a minister when you're in your church, or even when you're at a church event outside the building.  But to do so outside of the church, in a completely secular place with people I did not know...that required me to be comfortable and confident in my position as a pastor in the world.  And I was lacking that confidence at that time./

I didn't know it then, but looking back it is so incredibly clear.  I wasn't confident about others seeing me as a minister.  I wasn't confident in claiming that identity among "normal" people.  I wasn't ready to witness their reaction, to wait to see if they would accept me in that identity, or if they would laugh at me and turn away.  I wasn't confident.

To be a chaplain requires confidence in self, and confidence in identity.  When you walk into a room, you do not know the people, and the people do not know you.  There is nothing to identify you as a chaplain, other than your badge (in tiny print).  YOU must identify yourself.  YOU must have the confidence to claim that identity and tell it to those you are visiting.  If you can't claim that identity, then you'll never make it into the room.  There will be people who deny you that identity, who say "You're too young, too female."  There will be people who do not want you to have that identity.  But having that confidence of identity makes you strong enough to risk hearing their denial.  Because you believe in your identity, and others have celebrated that identity that you claim.

I was terrified walking into rooms the first few times I did it.  I'll admit - I'm still a little terrified.  But each time I walk into a room and introduce myself as "Nicole, one of the chaplains," I become a little more comfortable, a little more confident.  And having that confidence allows me to care for those in the room.

If I were to return to that Subway with the experience and confidence I have now, I know what I would do.  I would put my hand on the wife's shoulder and say to her, "My name is Nicole, and I'm a pastor.  Is there anything I can do for you?"

October 18, 2014

Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness

October 15 was Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness Day.  Though I didn't post about it, I did a lot of thinking about the issue, since it is one close to my heart.  Not only have my husband and I experienced two losses, but many couples close to us are pregnant, have newborns, or have experienced losses themselves.  In my new role as chaplain of a children's hospital, these losses are never far away.  Some of these losses occur early, like mine.  What is lost is the idea, or hope, of that child, because you haven't felt the child move, or learned its gender.  Others occur late in the pregnancy, and it seems like the child is already with you and a part of your family.

There have been stories on the news lately of parents who lost their children later in pregnancy.  When this couple learned that their unborn son, Shane, had a condition that gave him a life expectancy of only a few hours, they created a bucket list of things to do with him.  They visited museums, went to a pumpkin patch, the beach, and much more.  Though they knew they would lose Shane, they found a way to make him a part of their lives forever.

When I read stories like this, I think about our hopes for a successful pregnancy.  At one time, I thought that if I got past the first trimester, I would be less nervous.  Then, after hearing stories of late losses like this, I began to worry about later losses.  Working at the hospital has made my worries grow worse.

But loss can happen at any point.  At four weeks into a pregnancy, at 39 weeks.  It can happen at age 2, or 12, 50 or 100.  It isn't something we ever know for certain, even when we are given a timeline.  And it doesn't make sense to live in fear of that coming loss.  If we did live in that fear, our lives would be incredibly stressful!

I'm inspired by Shane's parents.  I'm inspired by their desire to live in the moment, rather than worry about the future and what losses may come.  I'm inspired to live my own life in that way.  Instead of worrying about the possibility of losing the next baby, I want to try to experience joy in the fact that we are trying to start a family at all.

It's a difficult idea to live into, but seeing stories of other families brings me hope, peace, and joy.

September 29, 2014

When I grow up...

When I was a child, I imagined (quite naively), that there would be a point at which I would be officially "all grown up."  It was the point where people would no longer ask me what I wanted to be when I "grew up," but instead simply asked who I was, and what I did.

Silly me.

It took years of trial and error to realize that this imagining was not quite true.  I watched my dad continue to use the phrase "when I grow up" to talk about what he wanted to do with his life, and realized that, perhaps there is a bit of Peter Pan in each of us.  In our own eyes, we are never fully grown up.

What do you want to be when you grow up?  

That answer changed for me at several important moments in my life.  When I was seven, I would have told you I wanted to be a violinist.  At thirteen, I might have said I was going to be a writer.  In college, reality setting in, I would have said I wanted to write, but would be a librarian to pay the bills.

At twenty-one, as I sat in my mom's car with tears welling up in my eyes, I told her that I wanted to go to seminary.  I told her that I wanted to go into ministry.

It was a sharp change from the future I'd imagined for myself since high school.  For one, it meant a further four more years of school.  For another, it did not (I thought) involve the arts.

I attended divinity school and became convinced even further that ministry was what I would do "when I grew up."  I even imagined that, upon graduation, I would achieve that place of being "all grown up."  I forgot that real-life sometimes (often) gets in the way of our hopes and dreams…or at least sets them aside and reminds you that reality is important, too.

After graduating, I didn't get a job.  In fact, I couldn't even find a job outside of ministry.  I went from taking 12 hours of graduate classes and working as a part-time children's minister, to sitting at home in my pajamas at one in the afternoon, watching Law and Order: SVU.  I hadn't arrived at the magical "all grown up" place.  I was far from it.

That was where I was about a month ago.  I've filled my time a little better since then (sewing, knitting, watching Project Runway…), but still find myself wondering and worrying.  What am I doing with my life?  Was I wrong to go into ministry?  Was I wrong to spend so much time (and money) on a Master's degree that is currently getting little use?

It is a difficult place to be in, and I won't pretend that I am the only person who has ever been there.  I had spent time, money, energy, prayer…so much on an education that would enable me to become a minister.  But I sat at home doing very little - I was not ordained, not employed, and not sure of where my life was going.

In this in-between time, I've been thinking about why I decided to go into ministry in the first place.  Maybe, I thought, I'd simply moved on to the next thing.  From ministry to…who knows what.  But I didn't think I was that fickle of a person.  So I considered the reasons.

  • I went into ministry because someone had been kind enough to love me when I needed love most, and because I wanted to share that love with others in need.  
  • I went into ministry because I craved knowledge and learning.  I wanted to learn, and to teach something meaningful that would impact myself and others in our daily lives.  
  • I went into ministry because I loved God, because I believed deeply in the power of Christ's love, and because I wanted to learn how others' lives were touched by that love.  
These are reasons I still hold close to my heart.  No matter what I end up doing "when I grow up," I want to do these things.  To share love with others in need.  To learn and teach meaningful and impactful things.  To hear the stories of others who had been touched by God's love.  

Over the past month, I've been learning how to be a chaplain at a children's hospital.  It isn't a role I was completely excited to take on, though I was willing to try it out for a period.  But as I've learned about what it means to be a chaplain, and the importance of that role in the life of a hospital, I've realized that all of my reasons for going into ministry - pastoral ministry - could be said of someone wishing to go into chaplaincy.  

There are so many paths before me right now that I am often overwhelmed.  But looking at the list above, I know that if I stay true to those life goals then I will be fulfilled, satisfied, and joyful, no matter which path I choose.  

September 21, 2014

A new green dress

I love shopping for clothes.  There's something thrilling about going and trying on new things, seeing what fits well and what really doesn't.  I love looking at new designs and seeing how I might make them.  It isn't always about buying the things I try on…but there is something very satisfying about finding an outfit I love and making it mine.

Unfortunately, my wallet isn't bottomless.  Unfortunately, some days when I go to try on clothes, nothing fits and I leave feeling dejected.  I leave feeling like there is something wrong with me and my body, even though it is the clothes I tried on that were wrong!

On days like those, there is really nothing better than coming home and finding the perfect fabric, the perfect pattern, and going to work making something that I know I will love, that I know will fit, that I know is in my budget.

That's how I feel about this dress.  I could never have found something like this in a store that fit my body and my personality so well!  But when I combined this amazing green and white chevron cotton with my favorite Simplicity pattern (which I've now made three times….), I found a perfect dress for me.

I've made a few changes to the original Simplicity 1609 pattern.  The pattern has the front in two pieces, instead of one piece cut on the fold.  I didn't see any reason to not cut it on the fold, so that's what I've done for this dress and the last dress I made from this pattern.  I also changed the neckline from a crew neck to a boat neck-type look.  I also made the back a v neck.  While rummaging through my stash for a proper zipper, I only came up with a 4-inch zipper, and so I had to add buttons to the top, with a lapped zipper and a hidden snap below.  I think it turned out decently.  

Overall, I am incredibly happy with this dress.  I like it both with and without the belt, and think I'll be able to wear it a lot of places.  I wore it on Friday for my sister-in-law's rehearsal dinner, and plan on wearing it on a regular day as well.  
Sometimes it's great to go shopping and find ready-made things that fit perfectly.  But most of the time, I find my favorite outfits are ones I made with my own hands.  

Happy sewing!

July 31, 2014

Sewing with a Singer 66

I've been on a serious vintage kick, and it's NOT just sewing retro clothes!

Okay, so it IS sewing retro clothes…but on a vintage 1925 sewing machine!  Say hello to my gorgeous Singer 66!  It has a treadle, does NOT plug into the wall, and sews like a beast.


In college, we had an old metal machine that was fantastic to sew on while angry.  You felt like you were really accomplishing something, with all the clanking noises it made!  This machine is even better.  Each stitch says "KlUnka-klUnka," and the treadle shakes back and forth.  (Haven't had any complaints from the downstairs neighbor yet…)  Now, I know sewing machines aren't supposed to sound like that, but it's so satisfying!

It has some beautiful details that you would never see on a modern machine.  The gold decals, the ornate silver covering below…it all makes you feel as if you are sewing on something that was truly made with love.  

The Singer 66 was the very first sewing machine put into mass production, and was made for nearly 50 years!  It truly is an incredible machine.  Though it is very basic compared to today's models, it has a bobbin winder, adjustable stitch lengths, and will work during the zombie apocalypse!  

Above, the bobbin winder.  Below, a video showing how the bobbin winder works.  Listen to that great sound!!


I knew for my first project, I had to make something that was vintage.  I spent hours searching through 20s and 30s patterns for a dress or shirt I liked.  Eventually I found a Mrs. Depew pattern I liked, but was too impatient to start sewing to figure out the French enlargement process.  So, I pulled out an old favorite: Simplicity 3688.  

I made the pants once before from a cotton, and was happy with just about everything except for the height of the waist.  I know it is the style of the '40s, but I cannot do the under-the-boob waist-line.  I took about 3 inches off the waist, and it still is pretty high.  

Last time, I noticed how incredibly wide the legs were, but I decided to keep them wide for this pair.  They are really comfortable, but not as dressy as they could be.  Next time (because there will surely be a next time), I will have to make them a little narrower.  

From the above picture, you can see on the left the snap placket peeking out.  I've become addicted to snaps.  Zippers are a pain!

The heart-shaped pocket I put on the front.  

Excited to see what sewing is to come with my new sewing machine!!

July 22, 2014

Living Toward…Part One

Yesterday, an important anniversary nearly passed by unnoticed by me.  It was July 21, 2014, seven years to the day from the release of the seventh and final Harry Potter book.

Now, it may seem silly that a grown woman wistfully remember dressing up in robes with a lion hat perched on her head, real-live radishes hooked on her earrings, and a cork necklace around her neck, waiting impatiently for a brick of a book to be released, and I will not blame you if you laugh at that idea.  But, for that young woman, that day - July 21, 2007 - was one she had dreamed of and lived toward for many, many years.

It is that idea of living toward that intrigues me today.  When I think back to that young woman, waiting with her friends in her costume for a book to be released, I realize how happy she was to be living toward the moment that book would be placed in her hands.  So much excitement had led up to this moment: hours spent discussing and debating what had happened in prior books, and what could possibly happen in this one; even more hours reading and rereading each page of each book, reliving the stories as if for the first time.  All of those hours, days, years, had been spent living toward the release of this seventh and final book, when all would be revealed and the story would be concluded.

When she received that book, was the excitement over?  No…but she began living toward something new…the next chapter, and the next, then the end of the book, then the conversations that would come.  Some new thing to live toward appeared, and she followed along the path toward those new things.  And other things, not related to Harry Potter, certainly followed.  College graduation, acceptance into graduate school, attending graduate school, marriage…the list goes on.

In our lives, we are accustomed to living toward things.  Our next birthday, the conclusion of a school project, prom, graduation, marriage.  One thing follows when another is concluded, and we are rarely left with nothing to look forward to.  

It is the living toward that is exciting, isn't it?  When I looking forward to the final Harry Potter book, those moments of living toward were (dare I say it?) more exciting than the actual living of it.  It was more thrilling to imagine what might be in the book, than to read what was in the book.  But the danger of it is that we might become too enthralled in the imagining that when that thing we have been living toward arrives and passes…we do not know what to do next.  

My senior year of high school, I spent weeks on a major project for my literature class.  It was a project and presentation I had looked forward to doing since my sophomore year.  My every thought was about this project - what work needed to be completed, what work had been completed and if it needed to be edited, how I would present it, what I would wear when I presented it.  My whole existence became centered around living toward this project.  When the presentation concluded, suddenly I had nothing.  I had forgotten about prom, forgotten about graduation and college…I had forgotten that I needed to live toward something else next.  

So what happens when that thing we have been living toward disappears?  If the seventh Harry Potter book had been canceled, never to be released, what would I (and so many others) have done with all the anticipation that had been building?  If the project I had prepared for suddenly had been canceled due to unforeseen circumstances, what would I have done with all of that preparation?  

I've recently been struggling with this problem.  Following marriage and graduation from divinity school, I have been living toward having a family.  It has become my all-focused goal.  After all, it is what we are supposed to do, right?  Graduate, find a job, get married, start a family.  But when miscarriage followed miscarriage, and the expected ease of having a child proved unrealistic, I found myself with nothing to live toward.  

Saying "nothing" is perhaps an overstatement.  I have everyday goals and happinesses.  I certainly live toward each evening when my husband came home, toward ordination into Christian ministry, toward many other things….but that central thing that I was living toward had seemingly vanished.  How do you move forward when the rug has been completely swept from underneath you?  How do you keep standing, keep living?  How do you seek out that next truly meaningful thing to live toward?  

It has been, and continues to be, a complete life adjustment.  There are only so many days one can set aside to crying in bed and waiting for life to cooperate with your expectations.  And so, lately I have been seeking out new things to live toward.  They've been small, but have managed to fill that space in my life.  Cataloguing our entire 500+ book library.  Learning how to fix and sew on a 1920s-era treadle sewing machine.  Rediscovering the utter joy of reading for pleasure.  Finding a job.

I'm not entirely sure what I am living toward these days.  Perhaps it is finding those simple life pleasures that make you smile.  Or perhaps it is seeking out something new to live toward.  Living toward something to live toward.  

May 8, 2014

The little writer

I've always loved writing stories.

When I was in middle school, I could not resist the call to write.  I would write when I was supposed to be listening to my teachers, when I was supposed to be practicing my violin, when I was supposed to be sleeping.  Stories of princesses who rescued princes, of girls who struggled with emotions they couldn't understand, of magical forests and the fantastic creatures who lived there.  The stories bubbled from my mind, flowing out of me onto the paper.

It became clear to me by high school that I was going to be a writer.  I'd graduated from short stories to novellas, and finally to novels.  The characters came to life in my mind and demanded their story be written.  It wasn't that I wanted to be a writer so much as I needed to be one.  I could not imagine going a day without writing.

Practicality often gets in the way of dreams.  In high school, I took a writing class offered at the library, and learned the average salary of a freelance writer.  I was determined to make it work, though.  I was sixteen when I submitted my first query letters to publishers I'd found in a book at the library. When the rejection letters started coming in, I treasured them because it meant I had tried.  One form letter I will always remember - handwritten at the bottom of the page were the words "I'm sorry."

I was determined to be a writer, no matter how little I made, no matter how many rejection letters I received.  But after four years of studying creative writing in college, I was burnt out.  I had written short stories and papers and poems and creative nonfiction essays.  My brain had melted.  The creative juices had run dry.  I picked up my pen and found no characters waiting to be written.

When I went to divinity school, I accepted that I would not become a writer.  I'd acknowledged my call to ministry, and was okay with the fact that I wouldn't spend my days writing stories.  I gave up on one dream to pursue a new one.  I stopped feeling the urge to write.  I stopped hearing characters begging for their stories to be told.  Though I missed them, I felt good about the new path I was on.

But now a strange thing has happened.  It has been four years to the day since I graduated from college, and I've started to feel that urge again.  Though I'm not a freelance writer, like my twelve-year-old self dreamed, I am still a writer.  The genre of my writing has changed - it now includes blog posts, sermons, and "theological reflection papers" - but the joy that comes with writing has not disappeared.

I wish I could go to my twelve-year-old self and tell her not to give up.  Even when it seems like the dream you've had since childhood is dead, don't give up.  Keep seeking the dream, keep listening for signs.  I would tell her that she would someday be a writer, just as she'd always dreamed.