February 12, 2015

Choosing Happiness

Whenever I am depressed/angry/frustrated/overly emotional, my instinct is to sit on the couch, cover myself in a blanket, and watch episode after episode of Gilmore Girls, The Tudors, West Wing, or some other comfort show.  I'm not one of those people who grabs the nearest comfort food and eats; when I am feeling down, I usually forget to eat.  I don't want to leave the couch.  I just want to snuggle with my blanket and my dogs.

Two weeks ago, I was in the midst of one of those moments.  That day, I had met with the ordination committee for a second ordination interview, only to be told for a second time that I wasn't ready, that they would not ordain me.  I was frustrated, angry, and depressed all at the same time.  That afternoon, I'd played Monopoly with Colin and a friend in an attempt to get my mind off of things.  But now I was all alone in the apartment.  Vegging seemed like a fantastic idea.

Vegging was the option I frequently took.  It's easy.  It's comforting.  It allows you to feel better in the moment, to forget whatever it is that's bothering you.  There's nothing wrong with vegging with things are bad.  

But then I looked over to my sewing machine and my most recent project.  It was a peplum blouse that I had eagerly been working on the day before my interview.  I was particularly excited about this blouse, because I'd made it twice before, and was in love with the pattern.  Not only that, but the blouse's fabric was a cute cotton print with bicycles on it.  All that was left was the finishing, my least favorite part.  Buttons, buttonholes, and hems.  Blerg.  

I decided to sew.

It may seem like a small thing, deciding to finish my blouse instead of laying on the couch.   But when you struggle from depression, like I do, and you find yourself feeling down, you have occasionally have a choice.  You can take the comforting route, the easy route, and feel momentarily better.  But I've found that later, I don't feel better at all.  I lecture myself for being lazy.  I think of all the things I could have accomplished.  And all the good feeling I got from snuggling with my dogs and watching Gilmore Girls vanishes.  

Choosing to sew, wasn't simply choosing to do something instead of sitting on the couch.  It was choosing to not let my depression overwhelm me.  It was choosing to push through the bad feelings and not only be productive, but feel productive.  It was choosing happiness.  

Now don't get me wrong - feeling down and being depressed are two different things.  But for someone like me, noticing that moment when you are feeling down and catching it before it becomes something worse can make all the difference.  When you are deep in depression, that decision is not even there.  Sometimes, the depression has already overwhelmed you, and you can't even imagine happiness, even when it is close by.  Choosing to be productive is not an option, because you are drowning in emotions that you cannot control.  But sometimes, occasionally, you are given a gift.  You are given that choice.

And that night, I chose to be happy.  

January 25, 2015

A Letter to Baby

Dear Baby,

We haven't met yet, but I'm Mommy. Or I will be when you get here. Sometimes I wish you would hurry up already, but I know that you'll be here someday. I'm ready to love you, to hold you and smother you in kisses. Will you have your daddy's blue eyes, or my ever-changing ones? Will you get my nose, with its funny bump in the middle? Or will you have a new face of your own to bring to our family? No matter how you look, I know I will love you.

It's hard waiting, Baby. Sometimes it hurts. I think that you are on your way, but then I find out I have to wait longer. You'll find this out eventually - I'm not a very patient person. I should probably work on being patient before you get here. In the meantime, I keep wondering who you will be. What will you be like when you get here?

Will you scream like I did? Will you suck your two middle fingers, too? Will you be a snuggly baby, or will I treasure those few and far between moments when you are quiet in my arms? Will you love to run and play outside? Will you tell corny jokes like your daddy, that I can't help but laugh at? Will you sit as I read to you at bedtime, telling you stories from the books I loved best when I was little? Will you love to travel, and imagine visiting every continent? Will you dream of traveling to the stars, or will you be happy here on earth, just like your mommy?

You'll change the world, Baby. I don't know who you'll be or what you'll do, but I do know that. I know you'll change my world, and Daddy's, too. I know you'll make a difference in the lives of everyone you meet.

I'm ready to meet you, Baby. Whenever you're ready to come, I'll be waiting with open arms.


January 17, 2015

The Language of Miscarriage

A week ago Thursday, Colin and I sat in the sonogram room of my OBGYN's office, watching as a small, black void surrounding a minuscule white dot appeared on a screen.  The pregnancy sac and fetal pole, our doctor told us.

By my calculations, I was supposed to be eight weeks pregnant, but the baby was only measuring at 6.  Not definitely a bad thing, the doctor told us, but not good.  I was bleeding, too, and terrified.

This Thursday, we sat in that same room and watched as the doctor again performed a sonogram.  There was the cervix, and the uterus.  But that black void and white dot were gone.  By that point, we'd known for a week that our baby had left us.  But it was still so strange to look at that place where it had been visible only a week ago, and to see nothing.

I've thought a lot lately about the language of miscarriage.  "I had a miscarriage," or "I miscarried," women say.  Or sometimes "We had a miscarriage," or "We lost the baby."  That had been my language, too, for our previous two losses.  Though I did not believe that I had done something to cause the miscarriage, the language I used made me the subject.  I lost the baby.  I had a miscarriage.

But this time is different.  This, my third pregnancy and third loss, my experience was different.  The baby was in me for longer.  8 weeks, this time, rather than 5 or 6.  I had a month of knowing I was pregnant, a month of experiencing the symptoms, the pains, the emotions.  A whole month where we thought everything was fine.  And then, last Thursday night, the baby left my body.

I won't be too graphic, but I will say this: I knew that the baby had left me.  I knew it physically.  And in that moment, my understanding of our language of miscarriage changed.  I didn't lose the baby.  The baby left me.  The baby left us.

The medical community has yet another term for this: "spontaneous abortion."  Though our society is very single-minded when the word abortion is used, it does work to explain what happened.  The word "abort" is defined as "to fail, cease, or stop at an early stage."  "Spontaneous," too, is an appropriate descriptor: "without effort or premeditation." It happened out of nowhere.  Unplanned, the baby simply ceased to grow, and left.

That understanding of the miscarriage helps explain my own feeling that I've been abandoned.  I was abandoned, in a sense.  For whatever reason, the baby left my body.  We probably will never know the answer, and knowing the answer won't stop my feeling of abandonment, anyway.

It hurts to be abandoned by someone I'd promised to love and protect.  It hurts to be left.  But it hurts a lot less than thinking I am the reason why the baby left.  It hurts less to say that the baby left, rather than saying that I lost it.

I didn't lose the baby.  The baby left my body.   But it will never, ever, leave my heart.

November 25, 2014

So, what do you do?

It's a question you hear a lot.  When you meet someone new and strike up a conversation, it's bound to be asked at some point.

"So, what do you do?"

It's a question that has become increasingly more interesting (and difficult) to answer.  For a while, it was simply "I'm a student."  Then, it became "I'm a student and a children's minister."  Then I was simply a children's minister.  And all of those answers were fine.  A little out of the ordinary, but nothing that didn't at least lead to further conversation.

Then I left my church.  I wasn't in school, I didn't have a job, and I didn't have an answer to the question everyone asked.  "Well, I was a children's minister."  "I'm searching right now."  These are all correct and acceptable answers.  But it is so disheartening to give them!

Things have continued to change in my life, and among those changes is my answer to that question.  "I'm a chaplain at a children's hospital, I work at a mall museum store, and I am trying to start my own sewing business."

Might be a bit of an overload.

But the answer that I want to give to that question is much simpler.  What do I do?  I do what I love.  It has taken years to come to a place where I can say that I do truly love what all do, all that I do.  I feel fulfilled in my work, and am excited for it to continue.

When you ask someone what they do, typically the question you're asking is "What is your job?" or "How do you spend your time?"  But wouldn't it be interesting if the question we were asking was "How do you feel about what you do?"  And if we were to answer that question and share a bit more of ourselves than the work we do to make money.

I do what fulfills me.
I do what I need to get by.
I do what I want to.
I do what I enjoy.
I do what I have to, but someday I will do what I want to.

I work with amazing people.  I help incredible children (who often in turn help me).  I knit.  I sew.  I create.  I do what I love.

What do you do?

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.