Home

As I headed out to run some errands, I felt an affection for my house and neighborhood. For the first time in my life, I thought “I think I’d like to grow old in this house.” I have lived in 11 states. I lost count with how many cities and homes there have been over the years. Somewhere along the way, I learned to see moving as an adventure. Home wasn’t a house or stuff. Home was where my family was. When we bought our current house back in 2000, I remember thinking its set up would be conducive for our life then and would work later too. It was big enough for our young family at that time. And with a first floor master bedroom, we could close off the upstairs when it became just the two of us. It’s not that I was planning to live here into my retirement, but that’s the way I think, exploring all options, benefits, and disadvantages.

We bought a house well within our price range. And we have rarely had the ability to do more than pay our bills, save some money, and take a vacation that most often was to visit relatives. That means that we haven’t done much with our home in the 17 years we have lived here, other than repair what breaks, periodically paint, and occasionally do an upgrade that coincided with a visit of my very handy father-in-law.

I have dreamed up many projects over the years, much to my husband’s chagrin. I enjoy doing so even though we were never in the position to be able to do them. But now that our children are almost grown, I think some of these upgrades might actually be possible. Granted, life tends to throw curveballs and we aren’t there yet. But there seems to be a real possibility of doing some of these projects. The ideas, some big and many not-so-big, now seem like projects we might be able to do in the next 17 years of our life here. Add to that the memories of raising our children and growing a lasting marriage, and this place becomes quite special.

There is no right way or wrong way to grow a home. Most of my friends have had the ability to build their dreams earlier in life. They are grateful for that and I am happy for them. Gratitude is seeing the good in one’s own circumstances regardless of those circumstances. I am now grateful for having had to wait. I am grateful that even if these projects never get done, there has been so much gained through the waiting. At the end of the day, it is just a building and we are just talking about stuff. My home will always be with those I love and the memories I treasure. But this new found sense of being settled and appreciative of my house and excited about what it might bring in years to come – I am grateful for that too.

Mind, Matter & Hurricanes

This summer, a good friend of mine took me out for a day hike on the Appalachian Trail. The experience was somewhat challenging and totally exhilarating. In the midst of a very busy time in my life, I was reminded of how time spent outside was so good for my mind, body and soul. What normally takes effort – recalibrating the mind to a sustainable pace; broadening my perspective beyond my problems; connecting with something larger than myself – seems to occur naturally and without mental effort when out in nature. It’s like the physical challenge of navigating a natural environment helps reset my mind to what is healthy and natural and sustainable. Maybe that is because the environments we build tend to be unrealistic, unsustainable, and unhealthy…

Perhaps a counterintuitive idea to consider in light of recent events. Two major hurricanes devastated parts of the US, putting nature’s power on full display. People lost their homes and all of their belongings. Some are without food and water. Others lost their lives. Maybe what differs between physical challenges and the mental ones is that the physical challenges are straightforward. The line between life and death is clear. But when we delve into our minds, the line between life and death blurs. What aids in our wellbeing can be ignored. What kills us – mentally, emotionally, spiritually – does so slowly, and without notice at first. And by the time we do notice, we might be too numb to change anything. Or too deep in denial. Or too entrenched in what we have always done and perhaps will always do. To help someone devastated by a hurricane is much easier to navigate than to help a person who is overcome with anxiety or depression. Identifying excess in nature is not debated, while we rarely agree on how much is too much when it comes to our own excesses. Physical malnourishment is significantly easier to recognize and address than spiritual malnourishment. The mind cannot cover up signs of under eating. But the mind can be quite good at hiding the signs of a dying soul. As human beings we rise to the occasion in the wake of a natural disaster. And on a daily basis we cause great destruction to ourselves and others through our thoughts, attitudes, and opinions.

I know not everyone responds to nature as I do. And I don’t believe that being outside equals healthiness. But there is something about the natural world, however that might be experienced, that differs from the world we tend to create.  And that might be worth pondering for awhile. Maybe we have taken the expression “mind over matter” too far. In our admiration for the power of one’s mind, have we forgotten the limits and sometimes the destructiveness it also holds? I am beginning to see, deeply see, what it means to find the answer beyond my own self. The mind is a wonderful gift. And the mind has its limits. Finding that space where mind and matter intersect seems to be where I find my whole self.

Dear Family of Origin

Perhaps it is strange that I write to the three of you in this format. But I realized this morning that I have a few things I want to say to you collectively. Part of my chaplaincy training was spent reflecting on my family of origin: what part I played in it, what parts you each played, and how my growing up within this family prepared me to deal with conflict, pain, joy, relationships, and countless other adult-life stuff. This process was enlightening, painful, and gratifying. I thought I would share with you some of my take-aways via my blog. (You can thank me later.)

First, we each bring a unique perspective to what it means to be part of this family. Our perspectives may overlap, and they seem to at times. And where they differ, I have the ability to see our family from a different angle or point of view. Our needs may differ. That is okay.

I recognize and affirm your thoughts, ideas and experiences regarding our family.

Second, beyond the four of us, no one can lay claim to being part of our family of four. That makes this group an elite one. Out of 7.5 billion people, only 4 of us make up the Peter-&-Carol-Flink-Party-of-Four. Certain situations remind me of the importance of this little family cult of ours. Neither time nor divorce nor death removes this fact for me.

I recognize and affirm the value of being part of this family.

Third, I am grateful to be loved by the three of you. You have known me longer than anyone else. Through good and bad, thick and thin, my good qualities and not-so-good qualities, you love me. Thank you for that.

I recognize and affirm the gift of being loved by each of you.

Fourth, you set the foundation for who I am today. I am keenly aware that Jennifer Potter – wife, mother, pastor, chaplain, blogger extraordinaire – originated as Jennie/Jennie Bugs/JB Flink – daughter, sister. Sometimes we try to splinter ourselves from where we came from, particularly when hurt is involved. But this seems to only result in the splintering of oneself. I am both Flink and Potter, each contributing so much richness and depth to my collective self. Exploring and appreciating that truth seems to bring together the best from each world I have lived.

I recognize and affirm the contributions you have made to my life, silly nicknames and all.

Fifth, as the only introvert in this group, I would like to point out how much communication I have endured and continue to endure. Seriously. You all love to call, text, and email, particularly the introvert who happens to be a damn good listener. It has taken me time to learn how to sustainably manage all of this. Thank you for understanding my decision to participate in approximately 42% of your communication. If I miss anything big in the remaining 58%, please let me know.

I recognize and affirm the ability for introverts and extroverts to healthily and peacefully co-exist.

Sixth, we as a family unit are a paradox. We are so very different from one another. We are so very much the same as one another. I am both giddy about and horrified by this truth. (You know what I’m talking about.)

I recognize and affirm our differentness and our sameness.

Seventh, we are a unit and we are individuals. This is a tricky one because the unit is so deeply engrained that acting within it is almost involuntary. I can be with one of you and the other two are somehow also in that room whether I am aware of it consciously or not. I can be in a room without any of you and am often impacted by this family unit nonetheless. This is the strength of a family of origin. It is also its curse. I am learning to be both myself, and one-fourth of this family. The first part of that learning was to make space for me as an individual. The second part has been to make space for each of you as individuals.

I recognize and affirm the space we each need to be our whole selves.

Finally, I am choosing to move forward holding this family unit with gratitude for who it was, is, and will be, warts and all. I learned that I have been carrying you with me throughout my life in so many ways. I find there is something important about consciously choosing to carry this family unit with me, in ways that are both appropriate and healthy. In doing so, I believe I take the best of what we as a family created and the important lessons learned along the way.

I recognize and affirm my gratitude for you, my family of origin.

Thank you. I love you.

With great affection,

me

 

Gently Woke

After four days at the beach, my husband, daughter and two dogs were heading home. I have the luxury and privilege of staying behind for a few more days all by myself. My husband wanted to get on the road early in hopes of avoiding as much holiday traffic as possible. Before my daughter got in the car, we hugged and said our goodbyes. She then added, “You may as well stay up and watch the sunrise.” I watched them leave and waved, then headed back into the house looking forward to a few more hours of sleep. I am not a morning person and in the nearly 30 years I have been coming to my mom’s beach house, I don’t remember ever getting up to watch the sunrise. I think what my daughter was trying to say was, “The only way you are ever going to see the sun rise is if you are already up. So stay up and watch it.”

I went into the house and checked my phone. It was just after 6 and the sun was supposed to rise at 6:44. That felt like a long time away. I filled my cup with coffee and checked the view from the deck. I wasn’t 100% sure where the sun would first appear, but I have seen plenty of sunsets here and assumed it was 180 degrees away from that point. That means I would not be able to see the sun from the deck due to shrubs and trees. I would have to venture to the dunes. I put on some shoes and headed down the path. It was dark, but not pitch black. I got to the walkway which goes over the dunes, and stood with the house behind me and the ocean in front of me. Crickets were still chirping. My coffee tasted good.

Slowly light began to appear.

As it did, birds began to chirp. Dragonflies began to flit about. The light was soothing. I was grateful for being eased into its presence. I thought of how often waking up is rarely a gentle process. Waking feels more often startling with my mind trying to rationalize how to get out of my morning obligations and my eyes squinting, longing for the darkness to return.

The light continued to grow, slowly and softly.

Birds began moving to the waters edge, looking for their breakfast. The crickets were beginning to quiet down. I noticed a few people on their deck a few houses away. I looked in the other direction and saw a man on his deck with a camera. “Do people get up every morning to watch this?” I wondered. I found my heart beating a little faster as I began to anticipate the arrival of the sun.

And then it appeared.

What beauty! It was magnificent and bold and stunning. No wonder ancient civilizations worshipped this big ball of burning gas. Its appearance was a religious experience. My eyes teared up. This actually happens every morning? Of course people get up to watch! Perfectly orchestrated in every way imaginable.

As my heart rate returned to normal, I continued to process what I had just witnessed. I was struck by the lack of fanfare leading up to the sun’s appearance. It was gentle and sweet. I could have missed it if I was lulled back to sleep, which was my first instinct. But I stayed, waited and watched. I was moved by how simple it was to witness an event that felt nothing short of miraculous. I found myself feeling particularly hopeful that each day begins this way, whether or not we are awake to bear witness.

These days, very little seems subtle. In our efforts to be heard or validated, we scream and cry. Sometimes we bully or dismiss or ignore those who are different or who disagree. Even our piety and humility are feeling larger than life lately, in a way that seems to counter these qualities. I hope I have the fortitude to get up for a few more sunrises while I am here this week. I think there is a lot more to learn about being gently woke.

Balance

In seminary, students were asked to incorporate some kind of daily spiritual practice into their lives. Many complained that they were too busy to do so. While I agreed that I was too busy, I also realized that life isn’t going to get less busy post-seminary. I needed to start figuring out how to make room for what matters regardless of how little room there appeared to be. I wasn’t great at doing so then. And five years later I’m still not great at doing so now. But I know it’s up to me to figure it out. I know that life is probably never going to make it easy. If I want my life to be balanced and full and meaningful, it is up to me to figure out how.

What I have managed to learn so far is what is meaningful for me. That includes some things I would like to do daily: reading, exercise, meditation, writing, eating well. Weekly, I need quality time with my family and close friends (preferably on multiple occasions), time spent outside, and an ongoing project which gives me an sense of accomplishment (which is important because so much of my work is ongoing and not necessarily with measurable results). These are the aspects of my life that bring me joy and contentment. They help remind me that I am more than what I do for a living. They are the components that keep me sane when everything else seems to be falling apart or am falling apart. These are the elements that help keep me grounded and balanced.

By balance I don’t mean equal parts in time. There are weeks where I have minimal time for those daily activities. But I do mean equal importance. While the work must get done, if I don’t eventually figure out how to incorporate the meaningful activities, I will suffer for it. And that means eventually my work will suffer as well. This awareness brings great clarity when I am at my wit’s end and see a house in need of cleaning and realize, yes I will clean for an hour because something has to get done. And then I will sit with a friend on my porch with a glass of wine because I also need to know how she is doing. I need to put my feet up and laugh. The work can wait. More cleaning can be done tomorrow.

There are seasons when balance is nearly impossible. But knowing that my balance is my responsibility makes the possibility of balance in my life grow. It allows me to think creatively about how to seek balance, rather than blame my schedule or my boss or my circumstances for the lack of it. The awareness of what I need allows me to periodically add them in small doses here and there, guilt-free. And the more I add them, the more time I make for them. I’m convinced that even the busiest among us waste more time than we realize. I’ve observed it in others and I’ve experienced it myself.

These days, the amount of imbalance I have been feeling in the universe makes my pursuit of balance all the more needed. Balance gives me perspective and hope. And perhaps most importantly balance gives me peace. The peace comes, I think, from that realization that I am not the center of the universe (something I believe we are all prone to think unless/until challenged) and I do have say over my little part of the universe. When I feel more balanced, I find myself to be more patient and understanding. I feel less of a need to control what is outside my control and focus instead on what I can control. I feel more balanced which makes room for more balance.

May we all find a sense of balance that gives us a sense of contentedness and connectedness.

I wonder what it’s like to love without risk.

I wonder what it’s like to be able to walk away.

I wonder what it’s like to give without meaning it.

I wonder what it’s like to take without a care.

I wonder what it’s like to cause hurt without a bother.

I wonder what it’s like to have no regrets.

I wonder what it’s like to feel so entitled.

I wonder what it’s like to look away.

I suppose it’s like being forgotten.

I suppose it’s like having no one in your corner.

I suppose it’s like hating most of what you see.

I suppose it’s like always blaming another.

I suppose it’s like being stuck in the same vicious cycle.

I suppose it’s like frowning most of the time.

I suppose it’s like living without really being alive.

I suppose it’s like being so utterly alone.

Messy Relationships

I am frequently reminded of the fragility of life. I am often reminded of the fragility of relationships too. I came to a crossroads with a friend, someone who didn’t like what I had to say about how it felt being his friend. My words had been carefully chosen because I cared deeply for him and for our friendship. It was because of my care for him and the hurt I had experienced from him that I felt I had to say what I was seeing and feeling, and what was causing me concern. He didn’t want to hear my words.

A few weeks after that incident, I wrote the following about my work as a pastor:

My dream of a church came from my desire to be part of a community that goes deep. It is in the depths that relationships are forged that can last a lifetime and withstand the storms that can come with life. I also believe that it is in this depth God is most profoundly experienced. The heart of The Other Church’s vision is connection. Connection is fun, but in ways it can feel painful too at times, because in the depths we are most vulnerable, most human. Our flaws are laid bare along with our hopes and dreams and disappointments and hurts. I have felt this pain, along with great joy in these last few years as I have done a lot of my own work as a pastor, spouse, mother, chaplain, friend.

I wrote these words because maybe I needed to remind myself. To be deep, it will be messy. And painful. But it will also be healing and hopeful and sustaining. This is the kind of community I have been called to serve. This is the kind of person I am called to be.

Sometimes when we stumble upon a wound, we touch it and feel pain. I realize now that this is what I did to my friend. I didn’t look for a wound. I didn’t know I was touching it. I didn’t intend to cause him pain. But in my passion of connecting deeply, I did just that. We have a choice whether or not we want to tend to our wounds. My friend had a right to walk away, and he did.

I know the pain because I have felt it frequently in my own work of healing. And I will feel it again. I am thankful to have some people in my life who, when they touch my wounds, stay with me as I work towards my healing. All relationships are messy. But not all relationships are healthy. It is worth the work to find those who will take this journey with us. Jesus is quoted several times saying, “Follow me.” But he didn’t walk ahead of people like the leader of a parade. He journeyed with people. He ate with people. He got to know people. And he touched their wounds. He didn’t judge those wounds or shame the wounded. He offered healing. I think this is why I have so profoundly experienced God in this work. It is about connecting honestly, deeply, meaningfully, sometimes painfully, certainly safely and joyfully too.

I hope my friend is doing okay. I still sometimes feel my own tinge of pain when I think of him. But the pain is my reminder that I connected with him.

On this Mother’s Day Eve…

A pattern is emerging in my journey of these last several years. I am increasingly becoming uneasy, dissatisfied, and even resistant to limited thinking and exclusionary expression. I first noticed it in my journey of faith, and write about it often. Nearly all of my posts under the “faith” category name this directly or indirectly. Religion has created a small god which continually seems to underserve the big God I encounter in my life and reading and interaction with others. While I am grateful to have started with a smaller god in order to understand, dig deep, and find my footing, I am now realizing limitations of what I know or think I know. My understanding is but one grain of sand on a beach that runs eternal. And while on some days that is frustrating, more often I am grateful that my job isn’t to know and explore that beach in its entirety but rather to be the best little grain of sand I can be as I mingle, explore, learn and interact with other grains of sand.

Two years ago, Mother’s Day was expanded in my thinking as well. You can read that marvelous post here. On this eve of Mother’s Day, I am reminded of my need to experience tomorrow in a way that is meaningful for me without doing so at the exclusion of others and their experiences. In fact, I want to not just avoid exclusion but to find ways to include more than what I bring to this Mother’s Day.

Tomorrow my grown up child will be home for a day, for which I am so grateful. I love him in ways that I cannot put into words. He is my first born, my first experience of someone part of me yet separate from me. I am immensely proud of the man he is.

My nearly-grown-up child will be with me part of the day. She is my daughter while growing into one of my dearest friends. She is my joy and my delight and probably the only person I could travel with around the world and not drive crazy.

I will have part of the day with my husband who helped make these children possible. He is my partner and my friend. He makes me laugh when I am in desperate need of it.

And I will have time with my faith community who lifts me up, loves me, supports me and believes in me – things we all need from our “moms”.

I will not have time in person with my mom. I am sorry I cannot say to her face-to-face how much I love her and how much I have learned from her and how grateful I am for her. But here is a picture of her and me from a little over a year ago:

Thank you, Mom, for, well, everything.

I won’t be able to see many women who have influenced and loved me, due to distance or time or no longer being on this planet in bodily form. And there have been many men too who have been like mothers to me in their care and nurture and life-giving ways of loving me. To all of you, thank you.

And for the ways in which I cannot fully understand or will not experience tomorrow on Mother’s Day, I seek to make space for you here. I wish to find ways to honor you so that you know you are not alone. I hope others join me too in this.

To you moms who have lost a child, I have seen your pain in a hospital room, a mother unable to put into words what she is feeling as she looks upon the body of the child she has just lost. Whether you are 25 or 95, that pain is palpable and deep. May you find comfort in this day, some how… some way. May you know that your mothering continues in so many ways.

To you who are hurting, who are angry, who feel lost, who have been let down, who have had to say goodbye, who live with regret… may you be found by others in your pain, your anger, or whatever it is that you are feeling. May you know that you are loved and you are lovable.

May we all join together in our need for a mom and in the ways we have been, are, and will be “mom” whether to our children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, pets, relatives, neighbors, friends, or even strangers. Happy Mother’s Day.

Good Isn’t Good Enough

If you are ever looking to have the last bit of hope sucked out from you, just read the comments section on nearly any article, post, or picture that has been largely circulated. You will find some dialogue of differing opinions and perspectives. And you will find a lot of mean, angry, name-calling responses. When I make the mistake of reading comments, usually under the guise of thinking “How could anyone have anything to say about this that isn’t nice?” I am quickly reminded that there are plenty of people out there who are always ready to insult, verbally assault, and destroy my faith in humanity. These exchanges don’t fuel an introvert, at least not this introvert. It makes me want to take my family and move far away from all of civilization. M Night Shyamalan’s idea of The Village begins to sound like a good idea, monster and all, because that monster seems manageable.

I wish silence was an option. I know many people are choosing silence these days. And I don’t blame you. Really. I get it. The problem is, staying silent is as much of a problem as bullying. Neutrality is a lie because being neutral just gives more space for the bullies. You cannot watch someone being beaten up and say, “It’s not my place. They need to work it out.” Good people regularly look the other way. But good people don’t change the world. They maintain status quo. We need courageous people who are loving and invested. We need thoughtful people who will step into the tension and attempt to navigate it. Those are the people who help bring healing. Those are the people who bridge the divides.

I suspect part of the problem is that many of us had the luxury of not getting involved in anything too messy, up until now. Many of us got by with being good people. We found little ways to make a difference. We were surrounded by people who got along and were on the same page. But today, being good isn’t enough. If we are going to see and be and experience healing, we need to do more. I wonder how many of us are simply stuck because we don’t know where to go. We have inhabited the Land of Good for so long. We don’t want to go to the Land of the Divided or the Land of Lost Hope. And so we don’t go anywhere.

Maybe you believe “this too shall pass.” You stay put and hope for the best. I have two problems with that. First, who gets hurt while you opt out? Second, what will be the collective cost? Jesus never opted out of the difficult. Jesus never ignored the problem. Jesus never chose superficial bullshit over substance. Jesus never turned away from what needed to be done. Jesus entered right into the fray with conviction and compassion, depth and substance.

We need a lot less people to be followers of Jesus in their comfortable way and people who will follow Jesus right into the thick of this mess. We need people to stand not for a party or ideology, but to stand for and with and alongside those in need. We need people who don’t support causes but support people. Where are the people whose faith costs them something? Where are the people who not only believe God will one day bring peace but are willing to advocate for and live in that peace now? Where are the people who have the audacity to believe that the Kingdom of God is at hand, which doesn’t mean “Hey you folks who’ve got your home, car, 401k, and health coverage: Welcome to the Kingdom of God! Now live it and enjoy it!” “The Kingdom of God is at hand” means that we have the guts to believe that every person has value, that every person deserves respect, that every person should be fed and clothed and cared for. Every person. And so we live it, breathe it, work towards it.

That is our work, yours and mine. And there is much work to be done. I don’t know what it is going to take or how we are going to get there. I imagine lots of mistakes will be made along the way. Many people are needed for this work – people who will roll up their sleeves, take risks, have the difficult conversations, face their own assumptions and fears, listen to and know and maybe even love someone who is different. And why, you ask, would anyone agree to this? Because this is where God is already at work. This is where life and meaning and purpose are found. This is the Kingdom of God.

Oswald Chambers says it beautifully:

The greatest enemy of the life of faith in God is not sin, but good choices which are not quite good enough.

May we who have been lulled into comfort become dissatisfied.

May we who know God be shaken by the Unknowable.

May we who dismiss those who are different from us see Jesus in those faces.

May we be brought to our knees by our own self-centeredness.

May we truly believe that the kingdom of God is at hand, and then live as if it is true.

 

 

Foot Pins and Ultimatums

Three and a half years ago, I had foot surgery which left me with some hardware in that foot. For the past several months, I have had increased pain in that same foot, specifically in my big toe joint. Today I learned why: the pin in my big toe has come loose and is protruding from my toe joint. I could either live with the periodic pain and exchange all my shoes for large-toe-box varieties. Or I could have the pin removed.  Surgery isn’t to be underplayed. There are always risks. It won’t be inexpensive. I will miss some work. “It’s not going to get better?” I asked the doctor. “No,” she said. “So I am looking at 40+ years (I’m being optimistic of my lifespan) of babying this foot with what shoes I wear and avoiding contact where that pin is protruding?” “Yes,” she responded. I don’t know about you, but the answer seems pretty clear to me. I’m going to do the work, get the pin removed, and get this resolved.

While the decision is easy, it is not without sacrifice. I didn’t budget for the surgery. I’ve got a list of things to do that will take time in the midst of my very busy life. But the ultimatum is crystal clear. If I don’t have this surgery, I may as well give away at least half of my shoes. I will have to watch my activity level. I will continue to experience pain. And I might never be able to enjoy a Frye’s shoe sale again. I am 48 years old. I am too young to live with the side effects of a protruding pin.

This got me thinking about how much of our lives are filled with protruding pins. It happens slowly. We have adjusted due to the discomfort. We even settle for something less. If we took the time to identify that protruding pin and determine what it would take to have it removed, we would be freed from the handicap the pin created. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had someone in our lives to help diagnose our pins? Wouldn’t it be helpful if we increased our self-awareness? Doesn’t it make sense to listen to those we love and trust in order to better see ourselves? Wouldn’t it be wise to pay attention to the patterns in our lives regarding our work, quality of relationships, and the way we manage our ups and downs? Why don’t we take several steps back to look at the whole of our lives to see what is working and more importantly, what isn’t working?

Instead we change our shoes. We walk differently. We medicate to lessen the symptoms. We ice to numb the pain. In essence we fuss all around the protruding pin without ever dealing with the pin itself. We baby the pin while we live a life that is less than what it could be. If only it was as simple as scheduling an appointment and having someone identify the problem and then discuss what options we have. Or maybe it is, and we are not interested in learning what really ails us. Perhaps what we want to do is nothing at all.