My Labyrinth Walk

Tonight I walked a labyrinth.

I first learned about labyrinths in seminary, and have wanted to walk one for years, and yet somehow I never have.

Tonight our pastor explained that some people like to view the labyrinth journey as one towards self-awareness, towards an inner understanding and union with God within. The journey towards the center can be viewed as a walk of petition, seeking guidance and accompaniment from God. The journey outward can be a walk of praise and thanksgiving, celebrating God’s presence in your life.

So I started in, full of expectation and hope for the spiritual awareness that was surely to arise deep within me…. and nothing happened. Step by step I trod, waiting expectantly for the awareness of the Spirit, for some divine revelation, for some knowledge of what I was going to get out of this experience. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

I felt crowded. My personal space was invaded by quite a few women like me who also wanted to walk the labyrinth, meaning that through the twists and turns we were often turning sideways to avoid collisions, breathing in each other’s perfume, staring at each other’s bare feet.

Sometimes I don’t like people very much, which is quite ironic for a pastor. I’m an introvert. I often view spiritual activities as solitary activities. I wanted very much to find peaceful union and contemplation with God on my own on my labyrinth journey, and yet here were all these other people, walking and breathing and thinking and existing around me. It was very distracting.

So I started praying. God, help me discover what you want me to find. I focused on repeating the prayer a few times. A few steps later, a clear answer resonated within me. Seek me. Seek me. Seek me. With each step, I felt thus instructed.

So I started seeking. And suddenly, the Spirit was there. I could feel God in the soles of my feet as I strode across the canvas of the transportable labyrinth. I could sense God in the pleasant smell of the oil diffuser placed delicately out of the way. I could feel God in the gentle rhythm of my bones with each step I took. My body became aware of God’s presence, but my mind was still rejecting the bodies of the women around me.

Seek me. Seek me. Seek me.

I kept walking.

I don’t know how it happened, but by the time I was about to enter the center of the labyrinth, a realization hit me with heart-sinking shame: the bodies around me were not distractions from God. The bodies around me were God. God incarnate, the imago dei, all around me. It was as if Jesus himself suddenly appeared to me on my way to Emmaus, and I was shocked to learn he had been there all the while. And I had vainly and selfishly tried to push him away.

My sisters and I gathered in the center, forming a wordless circle, breathing in union, existing with God together.

And on the journey out, as I began walking, I felt a clear resonating mantra: The ground of your being is found on the journey.

I didn’t even know I was seeking the ground of my being. But I felt such immense relief in knowing where to find it.

You see, I’ve been feeling rootless lately. I’ve been in discernment regarding my call to ministry, and I’ve had trouble seeing a clear picture of the future. I’ve been reaching and yearning for a certainty, an end point, something I can look at and cling to and say, “This is my purpose in the world.” So God’s response on that labyrinthine journey was to tell me to look around at God’s glory in the present moment, to let tomorrow take care of itself, and to remember I do not walk alone.

May it ever be so.

Amen.

 

Advertisements

Renewal

An urge awakens my bladder from peaceful winter slumber. I roll onto my side, hoping a change in position will lessen the pressure enough to fall back asleep without having to slip out of my warm cocoon of blankets. A few heartbeats later it is clear there will be no more comfort until I’m relieved.

Stumbling to the bathroom in the night preceding the longest night of the year, I consider the surrounding lack of darkness. The lights from the cell phone chargers, perpetually plugged in; the cable box and router, blinking somberly at me from the dresser; the dull yellow street lamp light pouring in through our thin curtains. The light follows me to the toilet where the sweet relief smells of dehydration.

Eyes closed, elbows on knees, I imagine the day ahead. I’ve requested four hours off in the morning for spiritual renewal. Oh how I need renewal. The rush of being a pastor preparing for Christmas Eve has warranted the need for stillness and contemplation.

I imagine the ritual of hot coffee, flavored with peppermint. I try to place my journal in my mind’s eye to limit fruitless searching when the daylight comes. I imagine myself in prayerful posture, immersed in scripture, journaling my every insight in a positively pious picture of perfect devotion. But even my daydreaming is quickly dashed by images of changing diapers, scolding overly affectionate dogs, wiping up flung oatmeal from every surface imaginable, and generally keeping the baby from killing herself.

Crawling back into my nest my internal clock alerts me that I won’t be there long. There’s no need to glance at the blue of my cell phone, faithfully charging on my nightstand, to tell me the time. I can feel the stirrings of my baby in my bones from across the house. I can sense her slight bodily rousing, the small rustlings of 10 month old slumber coming to a close. I know without a doubt the time is 4:30.

I’ve just closed my eyes against the inevitable and snuggled up to the warm back of my partner when I begin to hear them, the murmurs of my daughter slowly becoming aware of her alone-ness. She is not afraid. She is simply speaking to the darkness of her nursery as if it’s a friend. The mumbles filter through the monitor at my side, a comfort and a sleep deterrent. The long night is over.

I sigh away my warmth and dreams and rise to the chilly house, blue with the early dawn. I enter her nursery and am greeted with a toothy grin as my toddler (toddler?) stands in her crib, ready to greet the day. My arms instinctively wrap around her as I pull her close, breathing her in. She smells of sweet sleep and her own deep natural musk that I can’t describe but could identify anywhere.

We begin our morning ritual of rocking and talking as she points to everything and nothing, saying “Da. Dat. Da,” over and over, revealing her kingdom to me with the abandon of perfect trust. While my body continues to ache for rest, my spirit is renewed.

And I realize motherhood is my daily devotion.

I am beautiful

I am beautiful.

Even when I choose to wear my slouchy purple cotton top, the one that hugs me and feels like a soft caress on my skin, the one that’s easy to nurse in because it has a low scoop neck and I can just pop a full boob out to feed my baby whenever she’s hungry with zero hassle, the one I like to travel in because it’s comfortable and not too hot and not too cold…

I am beautiful.

Even when I look in the mirror at ten til ten in the morning in the bathroom at work with the harsh lighting, and realize that this favorite top of mine does nothing to hide my belly pooch, or the muffin top rolls on my hips, or my bra fat around my armpits, or the back fat under my shoulder blades, and all the doughy, rolly, fatty parts of me are on not only on display but harshly accentuated…

I am beautiful.

Even when my feet, clad in the twelve year old pair of flip flops, the ones that help my aching heels and will be easy to kick off and on at the airport and on the plane, but do not fall into the category of proper work attire, and look somewhat silly below my skinny jeans and purple top…

I am beautiful.

Even when I’ve chosen to wear no makeup today, as I felt my skin needed a refreshing break, and my chin is breaking out, and that damn harsh lighting shows me every imperfection, wrinkle, broken vein, red spot, eye circles, cracked lips, and the rest…

I am beautiful.

Even when I hate my hair, need a pedicure, want a hot bath, feel sticky in places one should never feel sticky…

I am beautiful.

Even when I don’t feel beautiful.

I am a freaking goddess. I created life. I pushed out an eight and a half pound being from my body seven months ago. And I’m still feeding and carrying that being around with me and she’s strong and healthy and happy.

I am beautiful.

I deserve that front paunchy belly, and the doughy rolls, and every stretch mark and under-eye circle because I am a freaking champion mother. They are not battle scars, they are victory medals.

Go me.

I am freaking beautiful.

So self-consciousness and anxiety, you can go shove it. Good day. I SAID GOOD DAY!

 

Anxiety Ocean

I mostly swim in Anxiety Ocean. Often I have a life vest, a privilege I’ve earned after years of constructing such a tool for myself. Sometimes I float. Other times I freestyle. On rare occasions I even get to ride in a boat. But sometimes I find myself treading water, out of breath and exhausted, just trying to keep my head above the crashing waves.

Yesterday was one of those days. It started when I opened my eyes for the day. I could spend hours contemplating the triggers for this particular instance, analyzing every detail of the night and day before: Was I too tired? Did I have an overly emotional response to something? Did I forget to take care of myself in some way? Did I drink enough water? Am I internalizing some tragedy from work? Am I maintaining boundaries? On and on and on. But it doesn’t really matter what triggered it, if anything. I have to keep reminding myself to stop actively trying to blame myself for swimming in this ocean, as if I there was ever another option and I just didn’t take it.

There is no other option. This ocean is my life. And it’s not always fighting its way into my lungs, but it’s always there. In fact, when I finally started to admit it was always there, the less it tried to fight its way into my lungs. The more I could float.

But not always.

Yesterday I was fighting for breath. I was fighting to remember my coping skills. I was fighting to hold on to my self-worth. I was fighting the voices in my head telling me what a failure I was.

I was leading worship in the role I’ve played dozens of times before, but this time my heart was beating out of my chest and my stomach was roiling with snakes. My breath came in short gasps and my palms wouldn’t stop sweating. I was so cold, cold all over, cold all morning. The body’s response to trauma: send the blood-flow to the vital organs. Anxiety is traumatic.

I stood in front of hundreds of people, feeling naked and stupid. “No one likes you. You sound incompetent. What are you doing trying to be a pastor? You can’t do this. These people don’t believe in you. They don’t trust you. They think you’re a fake, a fraud. They think you’re vain. They don’t think you’re funny. You’ve only been here a year and have too many failures to count. What difference have you made? They won’t even remember you when you’re gone, except how thankful they are you left.” The anxiety attacks me because I can’t hear these voices and say, “Yeah right, thanks but no thanks, take your lies and leave.” I say instead, “Is it true? Are you right? Am I that blind? Have I been this way all along?”

Self-doubt and insecurity are the constant companions of social anxiety. They are the sea monsters pulling at my kicking legs as I fight for my life in the ocean. “You’re messing everything up. Things were better before you got here.”

And the worst part of it all is I know, logically, that of course none of it’s true, at least no more than is true for any other flawed and imperfect human. I’m not universally hated. I am a good pastor. I have skills and gifts and talents and God has called me to this work. I have family and friends that love me. I am fun. I’m a good friend and a good person. I know, intellectually, that these truths are evident and contradictory to the sea monsters’ lies. But the knowing doesn’t help. It’s like a person having a heart attack knowing they’re having a heart attack. Knowing it won’t stop it.

But it does provide an opportunity to address it. Take an aspirin. Call the doctor. So yesterday I had to implement my safety nets, something I haven’t had to do in a while. Call my husband. Breathe. Cry on the phone. Lock myself in my office for a few minutes. Breathe. Take the rest of the day off. Watch the West Wing. Snuggle my baby. Drink water. Breathe. Eat cereal in bed. Watch the Olympics. Go to bed early. Breathe.

And today, though the ocean is always with me, today I get to float calmly in my life vest. Today I get to appreciate the beauty of my life and all those who love me.

Today I am a survivor.

 

 

Thankfulness Alphabet*

*I got the idea for this blog (slash maybe stole it) from my blogging hero, the Pioneer Woman.

A: Asparagus. It’s just good and healthy. Or maybe avocado. Artichokes. Almonds. Apricots. Apples. A foods are just delicious.

IMG_20150917_201632086

B: Baby Slowey! She currently weighs about 2.5 pounds and is the size of a butternut squash. And she is feisty! She loves to twist and kick, but as soon as Stephan puts his hands on my belly to feel her wiggle she gets still. Such a tease!

C: Charlie Weasley. My first-born cat son. He’s been feeling a little neglected and over stimulated with the new kitten, but he’s handled it like a true stoic. He’s been spending more time outdoors to get away from Jinx, but he’ll always be my baby Charlie.

IMG_20150607_120050287

D: Dad. The man who taught me what it means to love unconditionally. My crazy daddy. He taught me what a good husband and father looks like. He taught me how to apologize well. He taught me to never be ashamed of who I am as a person. He taught me how to care deeply about others.

E: Eating. I love food with an almost obscene energy and passion. I wouldn’t call myself a foodie, because I couldn’t actually care less about what the food actually is. Just so long as it feeds me and satisfies. Right now I’m eating string cheese. How delicious! How marvelous! How calcium fortified! What better time to be thankful for the joy of eating than Thanksgiving?

F: Family. I am so incredibly lucky to have come from the family I come from. Parents that love me unconditionally and encourage me in all that I do. Grandparents, though gone now, that showed up to support me in all my childhood activities. Siblings who are so different from me in so many ways, but who can always make me laugh and challenge me to think deeply about the world I live in. And then I’m doubly blessed to have married into a family of equal quality! I can’t count the family dinners, game nights, and holidays spent together just enjoying the company. That’s what makes a life.

G: Game of Thrones. The HBO series hooked me, and now I’m obsessed with the books. Just started A Dance with Dragons. George R.R. Martin’s writing truly is superb. I am sucked into Westeros or Essos every time I crack the spine. I am so thankful for a good story!

H: Health. I am thankful for my health, though I sometimes put it at risk with inactivity and junk food. I hope to value it more as I enter into the third trimester of pregnancy and prepare for life as a new mom.

I: Intelligent debate. I love when two people with different opinions can speak their minds without shaming or dumbing down the other person. I can follow debates when the opposing sides are truly listening to understand rather than to just respond. Most of the time it’s just a screaming match. Nobody got time for that.

IMG_20151001_151031939

J: Jinx, the monster kitty. His name suits him perfectly. To watch him stalk around the house, preying on anything from paper receipts to plastic bags, pencils to the dogs’ wagging tails, he makes me laugh daily. He is a fierce ball of fuzz, but when he’s ready to cuddle, you are in for an all night session of purring and him trying to sit on your face.

K: Kathryn Elizabeth Lucas. My baby sister. What would I do with her bleeding heart hippie attitude and her refusal to settle for injustice? She’s going to change the world (once she decides to).

L: Louie and Lola, my two cuddly, stinky, muddy, shedding, adorable, annoying, obnoxious, in-your-face, tail-wagging, slobbering, happy, rambunctious pooches! Life just isn’t as wonderfully funny or dirty without them around.

IMG_20150619_125924601

M: Mom. My first best friend. She taught me to be kind, and how to balance my check book. She taught me self-reliance and independence. She always changed the endings of every fairy tale she told me, so I was brought up believing to be a princess meant to take care of business and go to college. I owe my fierce feminism to her.

N: No. The power of the word “No” cannot be understated. (See “Yes”)

O: Organ music. Is that weird? Since being in Nashville, I’ve worshiped at not just one, but two congregations privileged to have not only organs, but dedicated and talented organists! I just love singing praises to God on a Sunday morning with that organ blasting through the air. And I think baby likes it too!

P: Prayer. I’m thankful that I seem to be overcoming my fear of public prayer, and that my own private prayers have deepened and strengthened as a result. It brings me a sense of peace and steadiness that I can’t get from anything else.

Q: Quality time. Be it with friends, family, or myself, I am so thankful for time to spend loving people.

R: Rest. I have always been somewhat of a sloth. But I’m learning to value rest as a sabbath practice, and not just as a way to stay in bed watching netflix all day. I can practice finding rest in the midst of busy-ness and in the stillness of nature, in the simple tasks of the everyday and the mind-blowing miracles and tragedies of life. Rest is a state of being, the ability to find comfort and peace in something greater than myself.

IMG_20150728_184533723

S: Stephan Shane Slowey, Jr. My husband, my sense of humor, my rock, the father of our child. He is my everything. I’ve discovered so many things about myself and the world with him by my side. Words can’t express the love I have for him!

T: Tennessee and Texas (Yeehaw!) These two states have shaped me into who I am today. I wouldn’t trade growing up in Texas or putting roots down in Tennessee for the whole world. I used to think I wanted to live in a new part of the world each year, but now I am so thankful to be a Tennessee girl by way of Texas.

U: Umbrellas. Just a darn good invention.

V: Violins. I love the sound of a well-played violin. I hope my children will continue to play past the 6th grade, when I stopped. I remember it bringing me a lot of joy to make my own music.

W: Water. More specifically, access to clean, drinkable water at all places I am likely to be. Home, restaurants, gas stations, water fountains… I never have to worry about not being able to find water to keep me alive. Now if only the same could be true all over the globe.

X: Let’s just be honest. No good words start with X. At least none that I know the meaning of. Scrabble word finder was not helpful. So instead, I’m thankful for eXpectation. The season of advent is all about expectation and the hope of something wonderful just around corner. It’s what makes hope possible.

Y: Yes. The power of the word “Yes” cannot be understated. (See “No”)

Z: Zachary Thomas Lucas. My brother the adventurer. We may not talk all that often, and he may get fed up with my day dreaming and idealism at times (he likes the cold hard facts). But he is a big Dr. Who/Star Wars/Michael Chrichton dork, don’t let him fool you. And he’s an excellent cook, and will be cooking Thanksgiving, and if that’s not something to be thankful for, I’m not sure what is.

Grateful, Day Whatever

I don’t know what day of gratefulness this is because I forgot I was doing this.

1) Sunshine. But the spring kind of sunshine, not the tortuous Texas-in-August sunshine. I like it when it is warm but doesn’t remind me that the ozone layer is a doily and I’m ten seconds away from bursting into flames.

2) Indoor plumbing. I suffer from a small bladder, requiring I get up on average 25 times during the night to blindly navigate my way through the dark cavern of my hallway to the bathroom. Glad that trek is not half a mile out into the woods.

3) Movies with strong female leads. I saw Insurgent Friday night and, while I was not a huge fan of the gagging sobs of Shailene Woodley, her “I can kick anyone’s ass” vibe was pretty on point.

Sheesh. Rereading those things makes me realize I’m sort of a pretentious privileged piece of something. I don’t have to spend 12 hours a day in that grueling sunshine picking produce for someone else’s table. I don’t have to urinate in public streets because no one will let me use their restroom. And I can afford a $15 3D movie (every now and then). Lord, in your mercy. We need some help down here.

Grateful Day 9

My freaking dog got out again. And the other dog left behind is now singing the song of separation at the top of his whine. The one who escaped currently has no collar, because she keeps walking around all night waking us up with the jingle tune of insomnia. So she’s probably out, rolling in dead skunk, and animal feces, and whatever other horrible smells she can track down because that’s what she does, and I’ll have to throw her into the tub and scrub her down, which she and I both hate with a fiery passion. That is, if she ever comes back. She has no collar, remember? DAMN THAT DOG!

I’m finding it difficult to be grateful right now.

I suppose if I try really hard, I can be grateful that I was able to sleep in this morning because I’m working the evening shift today. And I suppose I can be grateful that today is trash day, and that I get to live in a place in the world where someone comes and picks up my trash every week for free. That’s nice. And I guess, if I really reach down deep and dig around in the depths of my curmudgeonly soul, I can try and be grateful for that stupid dog, the dog that can’t stand being fenced in, that just has to get out and explore. The one with the free spirit, who adventurously yearns for the freedom to run at full speed, to track down every smelly event of the past month so that she can report back to base. The one who will come barreling into the house after a morning of scaring her mother to death, who will then act like the bath she receives is the equivalent of water-boarding torture.

I’m trying to be grateful for that mut.

Grateful Day 8

Today I am grateful for:

1) Puppies. My brother-in-law and his fiancee are in town visiting from Chattanooga and they brought their great dane puppy Duke. He’s already 25 pounds and is finally gaining a sense of balance that he hasn’t had the past few times they’ve visited. He’s still ridiculously lanky and wobbly and it makes me laugh. He’s a trip.

2) Self-care days. See my previous post. Yesterday was a fantastic day full of doing whatever I wanted and loving myself. Not everyone can have a full day’s worth of self-care, and I don’t come by it that often. But I am a proponent of finding time throughout the day to focus on taking care of yourself and doing things that are good for your mind, body, and spirit. Enjoy the small things that make you happy. (Caveat: For it to qualify as self-care, it has to actually be good for you. It can’t be eating a pint of ice cream and watching TV all day. I fall into that trap sometimes.)

3) Dreaming/visioning/planning vacations. A group of our close friends and Stephan and I are planning a summer friends-cation. We haven’t decided where we’ll go yet. But there’s something so life-giving about getting online and imagining a trip to New Orleans, or Myrtle Beach, or Charleston and exploring a new part of the world I’ve never been to with people I love. I do have a bad habit of setting high expectations for my adventures, and when those expectations are not met, I can get gloomy. But even if this trip never happens, for whatever reason, at least the process of dreaming has been fun. (It will happen.)

Something good that has happened in the last 24 hours: This morning I prayed with the family around the bed of a dying patient. That’s always hard but strangely amazing to have a family gathered around a loved one as that person prepares to die. I can’t explain what it feels like to be invited into that sacred circle, but it’s a good feeling. Not saying death is good or fun or easy. It sucks. But when there’s a chance for a community to gather and say goodbye, it can be holy too.

Grateful Day 7

Today I am thankful for:

1) Tea. It makes me feel all introverty and hipstery and clever and soft.

2) Stairs. For stretching me and getting blood flowing to deadened limbs.

3) Happy Hours. For obvious reasons.

My good memory from past 24 hours is me sobbing uncontrollably while watching the movie Stepmom last night. That movie came out when I was in elementary school, and I remember crying in the theater. It’s a tear-jerker that has no other purpose than to jerk my tears. But it felt good to cry. And Stephan watched it with me and hugged and comforted me like a boss. Like. A. Boss.

I love you all.

Grateful Day 6

Presenting today’s three things I am thankful for:

1) Yoga. This morning a friend gave me some special one-on-one time, guiding me through poses and helping me to breathe. She gave me space to find my body, something I haven’t done in far too long. Then she anointed my head with oil, a citrusy oil that was the first thing I’ve smelled in many days due to this constant head cold. And I felt renewed.

2) Story-telling. We’ve been sharing our autobiographies in CPE, and they have been impactful and meaningful to me in so many ways. Receiving someone’s story is a blessing. To hear and to hold the vulnerable parts of a person’s truth in tension with the brave and tender and strong parts of them as they share with you is an opportunity for intimacy and connection that we don’t often allow ourselves with other human beings. I feel broken open in a lot of ways by their stories. But I also feel more whole than before.

3) Letter-writing. It takes more time and intention than sending a quick email or a facebook message. It means sitting down and being still for long enough to translate thoughts onto paper. I believe it’s an art-form to be able to send a piece of yourself across a great distance and have someone hold that part of you in their hands. I try to save most all of the handwritten letters I get in hopes that one day I will have this amazing collection of thoughts that I can hold and feel and share with my children or grandchildren.

Last night, as Stephan and I were getting ready to read our devotional and turn out the lights, a knock came at the side door and the dogs went wild. This was around 9:30 in the evening, so I immediately became very startled. Stephan threw on a shirt and went to answer the door, and I thought, “If this is a murderer, I will need to have a weapon ready to disable him if he tries to hurt Stephan.” (This is how my brain works. We call it “catastrophization.”) So I grab an 8lb free weight from the closet and tiptoe after Stephan, thoroughly prepared to whack someone in the head if need be. But of course, murderers don’t typically knock politely. It was two police officers. But this fact didn’t settle me, because why are police officers at my door at 9:30 at night? Apparently, they had gotten a 911 call from our roommates phone, and had traced the number to our house. Again, my catastrophic brain thought, “He’s dead in the house with a murderer and we’ve been here all night and we didn’t know it!!!” No. He butt-dialed 911 while out downtown. He came home. He was fine. Everything’s fine.

I’m very glad everything’s fine, so that’s my good memory from the past 24 hours.

Love yourself.