Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

Today (Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015) is day 33 of 33 days without a day off.  I’ve been counting down the days to Thanksgiving because Thanksgiving will be that glorious, long-awaited day off.  That day when I can sleep when I need to, eat when and what I want, and generally just take care of me away from the stresses of the past month.  I thought this week would be a time to reflect on my blessings, and it is, but the listing of those looks a little different than I expected.  

This short month has been packed with both joy and heartache.  

On October 28th, I signed the membership book at Unity Church-Unitarian, and I told the world about that decision in this blog post at Exploring Sainthood.  I’m thankful for the people of Unity, for their love and support and welcome. I’m thankful for people who understand how difficult this situation is and who have my back.  I’m thankful for my Mormon friends and family who may not fully understand why this is necessary for me, but have shown their commitment to love me, even if they do not understand.  

November 5, new LDS policies about same-sex marriage and children of people in same-sex relationships were leaked to the world.  I’m not going into details of that here.  A google search will provide more information and commentary than you could ever want.  I will say that it hurt.  It hurt deeply.  It hurt many people, LGBT and allies, deeply.  I’m not thankful for those policies, or even the clarifications given a week later that mean that the policies will affect fewer people.  I am grateful for the fierce love that has risen from the ashes.  I’m grateful for people who reached out to those in pain and made a difference. 

I want the history books to include this detail: When this policy was leaked to the public, my Facebook feed was filled with good people, mostly Mormons, letting the gay community know their phones would be on all night, that they could call, could reach out, in case any of them were thinking of taking their own lives.

I’m grateful for a gay friend in pain who shared how friends had left a plate of cookies telling him that he was always welcome in their pew.  

Sometimes all it takes is some cookies and milk, and Jesus is suddenly there with you.

I’m grateful for those people who are still reaching out and still comforting and loving. I’m grateful for those who have listened to hundreds of stories of pain, have held that pain, and transformed it into loving action.  

I’m grateful for people who tell their stories in the hopes of helping others. Read this beautiful story.  

I’m grateful that I was asked to participate twice in the Ingathering of New Members on November 8th. Lisa knew that I would be singing with Women’s Ensemble at the 4:30 service.  She asked if I would participate then in addition to the 9am service because she didn’t have many people for the 4:30 and it’s always easier to stand up in front of the congregation if you are not feeling so alone and exposed.  

What she didn’t know was how much I needed that second time through.  The LDS policy story broke on Nov. 5.  I spent all day Nov. 6 and 7 at MN NATS student auditions, where most of my time was at the registration desk, greeting students and teachers, and being positive even though I wanted to just sit in a corner and cry.  NATS weekend wears me out when it’s just NATS I’m dealing with.  With that exhaustion and the emotional stress of the weekend, I was a mess Sunday morning.  It took everything I had to just hold it together and get through those words.  I had to go numb.  I couldn’t let myself think about what it meant to me to really be a part of Unity.  I had practiced reading the words out loud at home and I couldn’t get through it without ending up in tears.  So I went numb for the 9am service.  I got through it, but I wasn’t there.  By 4:30, I was in a better place.  I could speak those words with meaning.  I could speak them, listen to them, and love them, without the painful tears about the whole Mormon situation.  

I’m grateful for the smiling faces of my friends that I saw in both services as I looked out into the congregation.  

I’m grateful that after the service, Rob asked if I was interested in leadership opportunities.  And I’m grateful that even before I had a chance to respond Janne chimed in with, “Give her a chance to breathe.” At Unity, they see what I need and how I can contribute, but they also respect that when and how I step into those opportunities are very personal, complicated decisions in my life right now.  I’m thankful for that balance.  

I’m thankful for words and music that speak to my heart as if they were written for me.  The world is far too complex a place for me to believe that it was only for me, that sermons and music written, chosen, and prepared far in advance were about my needs.  What I do believe is that when I allow myself to be open, I hear and see what I need in whatever is placed before me.  Especially as I was able to let go of the numbness, the services on Nov. 8 provided much needed beauty and light and insight.  

On Nov. 11, I attended a choir concert celebrating 10 years of the Unity Singers.  The words and music shared there were also healing.  As a bonus, a friend and I had an email exchange that reminded me about why I do what I do. was an important reminder that we can never know who we're touching or what anyone who hears us is carrying, a reminder that when we sing, we hold souls in our hands.

My friend's words reminded me of these messages:

The world needs you. Now, the world may not exactly realize it, but wow, does it need you. It is yearning, starving, dying for you and your healing offer of service through your Art. We need you to help us understand that which is bigger than ourselves, so that we can stop feeling so small, so isolated, so helpless that, in our fear, we stop contributing that which is unique to us: that distinct, rare, individual quality which the world is desperately crying out for and eagerly awaiting. We need you to remind us what unbridled, unfiltered, childlike exuberance feels like, so we remember, without apology or disclaimer, to laugh, to play, to FLY and to stop taking EVERYTHING so damn seriously. We need you to remind us what empathy is by taking us deep into the hearts of those who are, God forbid, different than us – so that we can recapture the hope of not only living in peace with each other, but THRIVING together in a vibrant way where each of us grows in wonder and joy. We need you to make us feel an integral PART of a shared existence through the communal, universal, forgiving language of music, of dance, of poetry and Art – so that we never lose sight of the fact that we are all in this together and that we are all deserving of a life that overflows with immense possibility, improbable beauty and relentless truth. Joyce DiDonato

If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you'd take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you're going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft. 

You're not here to become an entertainer, and you don't have to sell yourself. The truth is you don't have anything to sell; being a musician isn't about dispensing a product, like selling used cars. I'm not an entertainer; I'm a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You're here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well. 

Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don't expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that's what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives.
Karl Paulnack

I am thankful for what music brings to my life, and I'm thankful that I can make a difference in the world through my music.

Just as I was starting to think that healing from the pain of the LDS policy mess was possible, the world was hit with a wave of violence.  I heard about Paris first, but it was neither the first nor the last.  And again, I saw responses of both fear and love.  We were talking about the Syrian refugees again, but there were and are deep divides.  Do we help them, or do we protect ourselves?  Do those two things need to be mutually exclusive? 

And then, late at night, the night before I was to sing the words, “Can you hear my cries?  Can you see my eyes? I am calling out to you,” at two church services focused on the story of the Good Samaritan, I received an email that made me doubt that anyone could hear or see me or the people that I loved that were hurting.  We were supposed to sing at 9, rehearse with the choir between services, and then sing again at 11.  At 6:30, I emailed the director to let her know that I was planning to be there, but that if I disappeared after the first service, it was because I couldn’t get through it without melting into a puddle of messy tears.  As always, she was kind and supportive, and let me know that it was OK to do what I needed to do to take care of me.  I’m grateful that she knows me and that she understands.  And I’m grateful for the music.  The music (choir and hymns) brought me the strength I needed to get through.  There were short moments of distraction, but I was able to get through all of church mostly focused, and without tears.

I wish I could say that the tears are done, but they’re not, and they never will be.  I might have had one day without tears this month.  I’m not absolutely sure.  They were not always tears of pain and grief.  Sometimes they were tears of love or joy.  Some days bring both kinds of tears.

The nation now knows of the Black Lives Matter occupation happening at the 4th precinct in Minneapolis.  They’ve been there for more than a week.  People I know have been been there.  Teenagers (and others) from my congregation have been there.  I’m thankful for their strength and courage.  I’m grateful for people willing to stand up and expose injustice.  I’m thankful for those working so hard to keep this a peaceful protest.  It has not been an event without violence (5 people were shot Monday night), but I know that there are people working to keep this peaceful.  I’m thankful for friends like this one willing to stand in the middle and listen to both sides.  

So, as I approach Thanksgiving 2015, I’m thankful that in just a few hours, I will have time for self-care.  Three and a half glorious days to pull myself back together.  To rest.  To regroup.  And then to step back into a world that needs so much healing and do what I can to make a difference.  I am grateful for the gifts of love and compassion and empathy, even with the pain and tears they bring to my life.  My heart has been and will continue to be broken.  I am grateful that my heart is being broken open and not shattered.  (See Parker Palmer post below for more about what this means.)

Now go read these two beautiful posts by writers that I love, whose words I'm always thankful for.  

Heartbreak and Hope:  Three Questions about Suffering by Parker Palmer
Childish Things by Catherine Larsen

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