All Couples Give Birth at the Wedding

“You’re about to have your first baby!”nexus-1315248-1278x854

This is one of the little sayings I sometimes suggest to couples in the homily at their wedding. Sure, the sentence gets everyone to perk up a little bit. Sure, it can make for a little surprise. It both builds suspense and takes the edge of anxiety.  Beyond those reasons, I say this because I want to help all of us recognize that what’s about to happen is truly the creation of a new life—the marital relationship.

There are numerous unity rituals to mark this creation…whether water, sand, or fire…we have visual symbols to represent this “third thing” between the couple.   But like so many parts of life, that which is invisible, the actual relationship itself, can easily be forgotten, neglected, and taken for granted.

When an infant enters your family, there is no denying her presence. When an infant graces your home, there is no way to ignore the need for food, changing, attention and love. There are a myriad of cries to get your attention.  Overtime, you learn to disinguish their sounds.

A marriage may not be so obvious in its needs, but it, too, cries out for attention. When couples find themselves engaging the vicious cycle of blame and withdraw, a marriage cries out. When days go by without an honest connection, a marriage cries out. When time and energy are continually taken by both and not replaced, a marriage cries out. Also, like an infant, a marital relationship does not have a voice to articulate that it’s hungry, thirsty, or in need of a little TLC. And, like with parents, the couple needs to listen and look for the cries and attend to them.

Imagine if we all entered our marriages honoring the relationship as if it were a newborn. Imagine if we recognized that our marriage, like growing humans, go through stages of growth and change.

For These Things I Give Thanks

God only knows I haven’t been the easiest person to be around of late.

The to do list is long.

The lament list is lengthy.

The fire in my belly doesn’t want to be tamed.

I’m told that fire can either destroy or cleanse.

I’m praying for the later.

And then

in a most unexpected turn of events

I arrive home from a church meeting.

Soul weary

I enter our sleeping home…

I’m too late to even say good night…

but instead of bitterness

grace and gratitude arrive like the snow that is about to fall.

The cat’s nestled up agains Joe’sbody as they both snore.

Not even my presence stirs them.

My head to toe tension dissolves to the rhythm of that sound.

I tip-toe down the hall to glance at the girls while they slumber.

For this moment all is at peace.

For the first time  in weeks

it is well with my soul.

 

From Resolutions to Rituals

to-release-1-1245884-1279x1924It’s that time of year.  The time when we get busy writing our list of resolutions and checking them twice.  If you are at all interested in personal growth or self-help, you can find books, journals, and art projects to inspire you to live your best year yet.  Recently, there has been an emphasis on letting go of the list of to do’s and instead picking an image or a word for the year.  These New Year’s traditions can certainly help motivate you to self-actualize.  However, if you want to deepen your relationship with yourself, your partner, and your family, a ritual to release the previous year can help make space to manifest your hopes for the new year.

What sets a ritual apart from a tradition or a resolution?

Rituals are like living poetry.  They make a change come alive by honoring that change–real change–affects more than just what we do.  A real change takes body, mind, and spirit. Rituals also allow for the paradoxes and polarities to be seen, felt, named, and honored rather than resolved or reconciled.  Think about the many rituals that surround weddings…from the exchange of rings to the sand ceremony to the parent-child dance, these rituals honor the joy and grief of creating a new family.

What do I do to create a ritual?

  • Think over the last year and make a list of highs and lows.
  • Write the blessings and challenges that have come from both your highs and lows.
  • Thank the year for all you’ve received.
  • Look over your list and see if any themes or ideas emerge.
  • Think of what you want to release from the previous year.  How can you lovingly let those pieces go?
  • Think of what you want to grow more.  How can you invite those elements to flourish?
  • Think about how you want to mark this transition.  Do you want to do it privately?  Should you have a small gathering of friends?

For example, if you’re an engaged couple getting married in 2017–whether or not you live together, you are saying goodbye to single life.  What parts of single life will you miss? What aspects of singlehood are you ready to send packing?  Individually, take time to look back over your last year, and write a letter to your Single-Self.  Honor both the joy and the grief your Single-Self feels.  Does your Single-Self need a ritual with your friends?  Just thinking this way could transform the bachelor/bachelorette party from a to-do list item to a time of really celebrating your friendships.

Once you’ve written your letter and have an idea for a ritual your single-Self would like, you have an opportunity to deepen your relationship with your fiancee.  Create a date night where the two of you share your letters with each other.  Honor the fact that there might be some mixed emotions about saying “I do.”  Creating time and space for your Single-Selves to share with one another decreases stress and wedding jitters.  Better yet, you’ve started to navigate the tricky waters of self-care and relationship care.  This practice will not only sustain your engagement–it will help grow your marriage.

Running on Empty

Can I just say this little light is not what you want to see go on when you’re stuck on the highway.img_1366

Sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, several miles from the exit, facing the quickly setting sun, the E-Light illumined my drive.  How could I be running on empty?  When I left, I had plenty of gas to get home.  Nearly 2/3’s a tank.  That’s more than enough.  After I stopped bargaining, I quickly shifted into Girl Scout mode.  I have my just-in-case tools in the trunk.  I have gloves, scarf, hat, and even an extra pair of clothes.  My cell phone was fully charged.  If needed, I could pull over as the car ran out of gas.  Now, I know that the E-Light means you actually have 1-2 gallons of gas left.  I knew I had approximately 7 miles to go until I could get to the easiest Turkey Hill.  I was pretty certain I could make it.

But still–how could this happen?  I am such a good planner….

In the moments of standstill, I mediated on the dashboard light.  Yes.  I am indeed a good planner.  I had everything I needed for this journey when I started.  And yet still, it was not enough.  Even with the best plans and best preparations, the E-Light goes on.  Even with the hardiest self-care and the most robust meditation practice, the E-Light goes on.  I was running on empty. That’s just how some (most) journeys are.

I’ve intellectually known this reality for a long time.  After all one of my mantras is the Louisa May Alcott quotation: I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.

And yet when I’m sailing through a storm or sitting in traffic and the E-Light appears, I feel fear.  Fear that usually gives my mind a multiple choice brain game:

a.  What did I do wrong? b.Why can’t I prevent these things from happening?  c.  What can I do differently next time to prevent this from happening?  d.  All of the above.

These questions do not help me sail my own ship.  These questions do not remind me that running on empty is part of the journey.  If it were a matter of developing a more strategic traveling plan, practicing more meditation, or a  committing to self-care more deeply, the E-Light would never go on.  Sure I get depleted.  But I’ve learned how not to run myself that low.  No–this little light of mine was not a lesson in try harder; do better; think harder.

As I continued to meditate on the dashboard lights, I breathed deeply.  In.  Out.  In.  Out.  During an exhalation, I realized if worst came to worst, someone could bring me some spare gas.  All I needed to do was call.  Deep breath in.  Thank you God…today I have people to call.  A litany of names ran through my head.  That is why I do not need to fear the storms.  Not only can I sail my own ship, but I am not alone in my boat.  Sometimes it takes the E-Light to surrender and remember, we were never meant to have enough gas to make our journey totally on our own.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHoly One,

I have fallen on my knees before you

head bent…

the very breath knocked out of me.

I’m again that little girl

whose sweaty palms

slipped from the handle bars.

I crashed on the hard

playground floor.

I tried to speak–

no sound escaped.

It was a

fall

and a crash

not some gentle glide on Your wings

not a cushioned landing on Your downy feathers.

No.

It was a crash.

A whoosh.

A loss of breath.

Words piled high in my head

but could not escape my lips.

Oh the terror of that moment.

How can I feel that same way again?

The wind knocked out of me

seeming as if my breath

gone.

Make way in the autumn of my emptiness.

Fill me with life-giving air.

 

Surely the days are coming…

Practicing Barefoot

This is almost too hard to put into words.

Too hard to capture .

This sense that the space between therapist and client is

holy ground.

I forever feel as though I should be sitting barefoot.

There is no more sacred space than when someone trusts you enough to

unpack the contents of her soul.

The Wisdom of Water

WaveI’ve been wading

For what seems like years–

Standing in the breaking waves

Waiting

Always waiting

For just the right moment

To dive

Head under the cresting wave.

Instead I shimmy

Forward

Back

Forward

Back

The ebb and flow of the tide

Pulling and pushing.

 

In the waiting

I almost missed it

That moment where the rising sun

Shines through the curl of the wave.

The light beckons me

To submit to the wave

And trust

In the weight and the wisdom of the water.

Thank You Note to Fear

I’ve spent years.  I mean years.  And hundreds of dollars…yes I mean hundred of dollars…trying to kick fear out of the backseat of my car.  I’ve breathed deep.  I’ve counted to ten.  I’ve patiently waited.  I’ve stuffed the car so full of items, activities, and commitments.  Despite these and many more efforts, fear always seems to be along for the drive.  In case it might be a little too long of a journey, fear makes sure to chime in at just about ever turn, fork in the road, and detour.  Even GPS does not always silence fear.

So much energy.  So much time.  So much devotion to this endless pursuit of silencing fear.  Even with all these efforts there are more times than I care to admit that fear moves into the front seat and grabs the wheel.  Then shame often finds the way into the crowded car.  You get the picture.

As I ponder this, I can’t help but think about Einsteins comment “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

Hmmm. Years. Dollars. Time. YES, this is insanity.

Then, I started reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic:  Creative Living Beyond Fear.  (For obvious reasons you can see why and how the title intrigued me.)  She writes a good bit about fear as a constant companion to creativity.  She actually MAKES ROOM FOR FEAR!  She writes to it and acknowledges fear by its first name and welcomes fear for the “road trip” (25).

Additions to do list:

Spend energy making room for fear.  Spend energy preparing for fear to show up.

I’ve actually started to make time to be in conversation with fear.  Sometimes simply listening and affirming does wonders.  Amazing, my fear responds to a curious question much better than my stern wagging finger.  I don’t know about you, but stern finger wagging actually seems to exacerbate fear’s temper tantrums to me.  Plus, listening to your fear gives you the chance to decide…and I mean decide and choose…what this fear is all about?  Are you in mortal danger?  What are the caution signs about?  Is this a fear of exploring new territory? Do you need to look at the map a little more closely?  Take a stretch and bathroom break?  You might choose a different path, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to go on the journey.

And my two cents–find gratitude for fear’s presence.  The flip side of acknowledging that fear is the bedfellow of creativity and inspiration is that if you feel fear….chances are creativity and inspiration are there too!  If you get that heart pumping, palms sweating, twisting stomach sensation, it could be that you are getting ready to take a risk.  Take a leap.  Try something new.  Attempt something different.  Step into more of who your authentic self is.  Well, that is certainly a reason for gratitude.

Grief: The Wedding Crasher

Grief appears the day of the wedding,

but usually she’s dressed to the nines and sipping cocktails.

If you’re not careful, you won’t catch her.

It’s not that she’s a wallflower.

You can spot her in the reflection of the tears.

She rubs elbows with the parents’ of the couple.

She glides across the ballroom floor.

If you listen carefully, you can hear her deep sighs.

She sighs for the years gone by to quickly–

for the thoughts not said

For the feelings not expressed.

She sighs for myriad of little hurts and headaches–

never addressed

never attended to

never quite healed.

She sighs for the bittersweet taste of marriage–

looking back at the legacy of love

pondering the complexity of love

worrying that so much hope is hung on one day and in one person.

 

 

Marriage On the Margins

In mainline protestant white liberal churchy world there’s a lot of talk about ministry on the margins.  Mostly this means ministry with people living in the margins of our society. Think refugees, LGBT folks, people of color.  These are very real and necessary conversations.  For people of faith in the United Church of Christ–the denomination that proclaims extravagant welcome and hospitality–these conversations are not only important they are vital to the mission and ministry of the church.

At the same time, I can’t help but wonder if there is not another group also on the margins.  In this case, I’m referring to predominantly middle class couples of various faith and ethnic backgrounds who proclaim to be spiritual but not religious and at the same time seek a spiritual ceremony for their wedding.  Where is a questioning, curious,  interfaith, or interethnic couple to turn for this rite of passage?

In churchy circles, the spiritual but not religious folks are often given a -tsk, -tsk and a wagging finger.  They are not committed enough.  They haven’t moved far enough in their spiritual journey.  They are just part of the consumerist generation–where it’s all about me.  In all of this theying, I think we have lost sight of a bigger picture.

Within our cultural landscape, these are couples who might just be starting to wrestle with what it means to marry someone of a different faith background.  What does it means to be family with someone whose faith traditions challenge our own?  These are not surface questions.  These are not questions to be answered over night.  These are questions that today’s couples with live with and into over the course of married life.

As someone who has the privelege of walking with couples wrestling with these questions as they prepare to marry, I can say most of them simply choose to disengage from organized religion altogether.  I don’t know that it’s so much that they oppose religion as they haven’t seen or experienced a model that mirrors who they are.  Or that permits them to ask the big questions.  Or that for a couple  it’s too hard to show up and explain why and how they are different than what a faith community expected.

Now before you go getting upset that you are the kind of faith leader that is open to this kind of question, I want you to pause.  To take a deep breath.  And think about.  Really think about how not you–but your faith community –is prepared not only to welcome these couples but walk with them through this new religious landscape.  Because that’s where I believe we are.  We are in a new landscape, and today’s couples are asking and living in and with new questions.

We are in a new landscape where, according to the PEW Research Center, there is a significant increase in interfaith and interethnic marriages.  Combine this reality with the legalization of same-sex marriage, and the predominance of stepfamilies, and you can see that Ward and June Cleaver are no longer the average couple seeking to wed.  Perhaps these couples are also on the margins.  And perhaps we in the church need to think about how to listen to their questions.