Invisible Hugs

In my last post I mentioned that at a very difficult time in my life I had prayed for God to let my life be useful to others. It’s still a prayer I say every night and it sustains me daily. Every time an opportunity appears for that to happen, it’s almost like I’m receiving a special invisible hug from God. It really can transform the way you experience your daily life.

It reminds me of an experiment I once tried that was so successful that I have just adopted it as my modus operandi. Pick a person in your life, or it can be a random colleague or co-worker. Preferably this would be someone who you find challenging to get along with. Now, the experiment is to find one thing a day to sincerely admire about that person and then find a way to mention it or compliment them about it. I know! It’s REALLY hard at first. Especially if you are angry and resentful at that person, or if they have hurt you.

You have to force yourself to drop that stuff for a bit, step back and look at them with open eyes. At first just find something easy. Maybe notice some task they are good at, or their vocabulary, or attention to detail! Maybe they notice what you do or don’t do all the time, darn them! Well, that can also be a strength. Think about that until you believe it’s one. Then let them know how you’ve been meaning to tell them that you really admire that attention to detail. It’ll be awkward as heck at first. They will be suspicious. They will think you are being insincere, flattering them, trying to get something from them. Just keep your cool, mean it and leave it at that. Then do it again the next day. Find something else, mention it and move on. It’s a discipline, like any exercise it requires effort and practice.

After a few weeks, don’t be surprised if they confront you and ask you why you are acting so nice to them. They might accuse you of secretly hating them and want to know what you are after. Just tell them the truth. Tell them you realized you hadn’t really taken a good look at who they were, and the more you got to know them, the more the “real them” began to shine through. Be sincere. What you will discover is that being honest, sincere, and vulnerable with people and just making yourself look into them and then talking about their positive traits will change everything in the way you see them, the world and the people around you. Try it. I dare you.

Switching gears a bit, I am going to talk about some kind of mundane stuff for a change now. At my consulting job a couple of the gentlemen I work with have started calling me by a nickname which I confess totally delights me. I just LOVE nicknames. My name is so unusual and I am fond of it and I guess it really suits me so people don’t generally give me nicknames. A couple of my best boyfriends figured this out about me and gave me sweet endearing ones and I was total goo. I especially liked the ones that liken me to cute animals. Who doesn’t right? I am fond of Otters for example. They live in the water half the time and so would I if I had the chance and who doesn’t want to be considered as adorable as one? Then there’s variations on the term Smidge because I’m kind of little. So nicknames are cool. They call me Cinnamon at the office here …which is great because it’s my favorite spice, I’m a total cinnamon junkie and because it sounds a bit like my name sounds:  Cinnamon= /SinJun/ So Yay Nicknames!

I got sent a few of those “greatest proposal ever” videos with these big elaborate dance numbers or intricately choreographed moments with family participation and it seems sweet and overwhelming and everything. Then I was nearby when my Mom was watching a show she follows called “The Glades.” In it, the main character is struggling with his feelings for his girlfriend in the season finale. She is in Atlanta studying while he is in Miami working. They are dealing with long distance relationship issues. Other women are hitting on him. She is guilty for taking this time to go to school for herself. But they love each other. She finally passes this big test and she is out celebrating with the women who have been training her. She decides not to call and tell him, but to drive home and tell him in person the next day as a surprise. She doesn’t have to though because he walks into the bar they are at, smiles, congratulates her and asks her to come outside. He tells her they need to talk and starts to explain that he can’t do this anymore. She objects and says she loves him, she knows they can figure out a way to work things out. She has this horrible he’s breaking up with me look on her face. He shakes his head and says he doesn’t know how they’ll work it out, but he does know he can’t do this anymore. He looks down, then he gets on one knee, pulls out a ring and proposes!

Jim Longworth Proposes to Callie Cargill on the TV show "The Glades" on A&E

Jim Longworth Proposes to Callie Cargill on the TV show “The Glades” on A&E

He says, I need to know that however we work it out, we know we are going to be working it out together. Will you marry me? She is stunned and that’s how they end the show/season.

Why do I bring this up? Well, I think this is one of the more romantic proposals I’ve seen. That may sound crazy, but here’s why. He is full of anxiety about this relationship but he finally has an epiphany that what is bothering him is that he doesn’t ever want to lose her. So what does he do? He doesn’t waste a minute, he drops everything, he goes right then to a store, buys a ring, flies to Atlanta, tracks her down and basically falls at her feet to beg her to marry him. I mean…that is ROMANTIC. That’s what I want. I don’t need or want elaborate, fancy or prepared. I want someone who is crazy in love and desperate for me to say yes and can’t wait to get to me and ask for me to be his for the rest of his life. No dance, lip sync, art gallery opening or trick will ever top that. Do you agree?

Moving on to my next mundane topic…the show Political Animals: If you missed it, get ye hence and go watch it. Especially if you are a lady. Sigourney Weaver is amazing as always.

Lastly I have noticed that since I have moved back down to Alabama my total crush on big trucks has come back. Plenty of them around here too. Sikorsky, the helicopter plant is here and there are lots of truck driving men around here. They take good care of them too. A very entertaining young lady who works at the plant where I am consulting drives her boyfriend’s massive Dodge truck to work every day with its Hemi and shiny rims. It’s very intimidating when I park next to it. I think I am just feeling bad because my beat up little Nissan is really starting to sputter a bit. I’m afraid it may not last much longer. I do coax it and talk to it daily. It does its best. I miss my Audi. I really shouldn’t though. I am afraid the car buff and technology junkie in me are the pieces that cling the hardest to the materialistic mindset. Of course the girly girl within whines about my formerly frequent mani-pedis, the fancy salon and my shoe budget but I am quite the frugal fashionista now and proud of it so I can shrug that stuff off. Easy to beat that back simply by thinking of other things that money could go to, charitable stuff!

But the part of me that lusts after a nicer car with a powerful engine and smooth suspension, along with a jack for my phone so I can play Spotify through the speakers? The eternal whisper of the need for a faster, stronger laptop, an upgraded phone soon…oh and how am I even living without an iPad? Those are the hardest to ignore.

I prefer to leave such acquisitions in the hands of God now, I would rather let him provide. Not at my pace, but his. It helps me practice another discipline I mentioned not long ago, that of patience. Practice as you know, is the only way to improve.

Speaking of improving, I had my tutoring orientation for church today and it was super exciting. I met new people, I got this book

Tutoring Your Elementary Child with TLC

Tutoring Your Elementary Child with TLC

I volunteered to maintain a Facebook group. I already got assigned a student! We get to have dinner with them and then spend about an hour helping them with homework. How awesome is that? See? Another invisible hug from God.  How can an iPad compete with that? 🙂

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Let my life be useful to others…

I got excellent news today, the artist who is designing the cover art for my upcoming book sent me the comp today and it is GORGEOUS! I am so thrilled. I did a little happy dance and promptly began showing it off to everyone in my immediate vicinity. We all agreed that fans will be tattooing it on their bodies in no time. Well, we thought it would not be at all surprising if they did.

The big news where I am is Tropical Storm, sure to be upgraded at any moment to Hurricane Isaac. Accuweather.com which is my preferred weather source is much calmer than the others so I recommend their site in the event of Weather emergencies. I can hear the wind blustering outside even though he’s just brushing by us. My sister and aunt came to stay with us to get out of harm’s way in Mobile where there’s more likely to be unpleasant power outages and wind and water damage. We might get some power outages here in Troy but they will likely be brief and a few squally storms and blown down limbs isn’t out of the ordinary. It’s nice to have them visit. I’ve missed them.

Meanwhile in other projects: I’m doing a little something to make me happy called OperationPAL through MarineParents which aims to send support and encouragement to wounded Marines. Here are the first two cards I am sending. I plan on picking up a couple more tomorrow to mail.

Letters to OperationPAL

My first two letters to OperationPAL

I included my new Personal Cards from Moo.com so they would know who the card came from. I recently printed both business cards from VistaPrint and Personal Cards from Moo.com and they both arrived today. The difference in quality was really stunning. VistaPrint’s were on thin shoddy paper with weak inks. Moo.com’s were on thick over sized card stock with vibrant colors on both sides. No contest really.

So I’ve mentioned the other projects I am actively working on: The book, the consulting, the Veterans project. While researching the Veterans project I came across another thing I can do now so I will be rolling that out in a day or two. It will involve sending care packages to Marines in Afghanistan. My first contact represents a small group and my second represents a battalion, both from North Carolina that is hoping for some support. The small group is of 50 males and his description says:

Their electricity is provided 220 generators, they live in tents and have very few supplies to cook. They do not have electric stove tops.

The other contact represents a battalion also from North Carolina and they have over 500 males and 40 females and the contacts descriptions says:

75% live in cans (I investigated and this is some kind of hut or could be just cargo containers retrofitted to sleep in) / 25% live in tents and sleep on cots. They have 110 electricity in 90% of the areas their power source is generator. They have no cooking ability. 25% have refrigerators. They have no microwaves.

I will be creating a new page on my blog about this and providing a list of things I will be collecting as well as providing a link if you can pitch in a few bucks to help buy stuff to add to the boxes. You can help with money, or you can pick up or collect the stuff I am accumulating and send it to me… that would be awesome as well. I will make sure it gets packed correctly with the right customs forms and that nothing illegal gets sent. I will also be soliciting donations in my local community. One thing they hope to get are things like Magazines. I know I can collect those at my fitness center and it’s likely some of the other items they want might come in through there too.  So look for the new page with all the details on my blog to go live soon, I’ll be taking pictures of the packages and posting them as I send them! It should be fun.

While continuing to research the *big* Veterans project, I discovered that my regional VA office has an interesting training program and I have inquired into it. Hopefully I will be able to share more details soon but it’s one of those discoveries where you are like, YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME?! because it is so right up your alley and everything you want to do.

I also heard from the church I’ve been attending in Montgomery about transferring my membership there, so I went ahead and got the paperwork together today…I was hoping to go to a tutoring volunteer orientation there on Wednesday anyway so the call was serendipitous. It allowed me to sign up for that.

Lots of very meaningful stuff! Thank God for answering my deepest prayer, let my life be useful to others.

This May Get A Little Controversial

While I haven’t updated as frequently as I have wanted to that’s because there has been so much happening. I have been polishing up my online presence, giving my old consulting site a facelift, a Facebook page and reactivating it’s Twitter feed. I’ve been sorting through the way too many websites and blogs I’ve left littered all over the place in the last few years to try and determine what to leave up and what to take down in preparation for launching my book. I’ve also been working on the integrated social  media strategy for it, because of course, online is interwoven into the plot. How could it not be when I swear I think part of my brain is somehow wirelessly connected to the Internet already? That reminds me, I need to open a savings account to start putting away some dollar bills for Google’s Project Glass. Talk about tech lust. That has my name written all over it.

Here’s what THAT is:

I read a little bit of the Bible (NRSV) every night. I just open a random page and see what’s there ya’ know? Last night I opened it and it fell to a page that started about midway through the Sermon on the Mount at Matthew 5:14 which began with “You are the light of the world” and continued through the admonition to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” One of my all time favorite verses is in the middle of the page, I wish everyone would take it to heart which is Matthew 5:42 “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” Notice it says nothing about checking to see if they deserve it or what they are going to spend it on.

Anyway I bring this up simply because that Rep. Akin who talked about “legitimate” rape made a lot of women feel persecuted with his careless words. I am guessing there are already some people who think women are making too big of a deal over it. Actually I am sure of it. While I think this man shouldn’t be in any position to make laws or policy, I don’t want to be angry at him. I just want to forgive. Oddly enough, after reading an earlier post by Eve Ensler that moved me more than I can say because it captured the pain his words engendered, The Onion posted an article that made me laugh my ass off. After reading it, I was able to let go of my anger and forgive. I still think he should quit, but you know, I can pray for him. Pray for him to find understanding. Pray for him to retire. Even if you aren’t looking to forgive, I think you will still really enjoy this article.

I’ve mentioned that I’d been researching the Marines because of a character in my forthcoming book. I also met someone who even though I’ve only known them a short while is one of those people that nudges you into a new way of looking at the world. I wish I knew them better than I do, but even the small amount of time I have spent with them was enough to open my eyes and engage my deeply passionate heart about the issues facing active duty military and veterans who’ve returned from combat. My own almost painful sensitivity to people who are suffering already makes me naturally empathetic to issues facing warriors who are wounded both physically and mentally. In fact I would say that the hidden wounds call to me even more.

God has blessed me with many gifts and some challenges as well. One of the gifts has been an eidetic visual memory and the ability to hold and process  seeming incredible amounts of information in my head. I also periodically come across a problem, issue, or subject area that calls to me and nothing will do but for me to quite literally digest every bit of usable information I can find on the topic and and anything that relates to it. I consume it voraciously with an appetite that does not end until a kind of information map is created in my mind and connections and solutions start appearing. They are usually connections and solutions that are new because no one has aggregated the kinds of sources I do before.

Because of the almost visceral way I am plugged into the Internet and my instinctive understanding of how information is added, circulated, archived and indexed, it makes it easier for me to find unique as well as standardized sources of information. Once I start to identify causal relationships, dependent conditions, redundancies, all the little islands of duplicate efforts and all the places where there is no communication…things really start to cook. That’s where I am right now. So that is something that is happening in the back of my mind while I am also consulting on documenting peanut butter manufacturing processes and trying to finish my book.

The friend who started all of this isn’t much in my life though I pray every day that that could be different. When we do get to check in, they offer much needed feedback and input to help me direct my energy and most recently steered me into working to develop a concrete plan that we could perhaps work to execute together to make a real difference in the lives of many who are suffering. It would mean a lot to me to help even one sufferer. The recent soldier suicide report was extremely upsetting and left me very shaken. Especially if you consider it only took into account the month of July for one branch of the service, the Army, which isn’t even the force that is serving most heavily in Afghanistan… that would be the Marines. It also doesn’t take into account the number of suicides by Veterans who’ve recently returned or in the other branches of US Military service. Bottom line: No one in our military should feel alone or unsupported.

I don’t give a rat’s ass if you don’t support the war, the administration or whatever. YOU ALWAYS SUPPORT OUR TROOPS! Why? I can’t believe I have to explain this to anyone. They are attempting to live a life of service to this country. In many countries a year of service is mandatory. Service to others, your community, your neighbors, your fellow brothers and sisters in uniform and your country is something to admire and be proud of.

Our armed forces don’t “die for nothing.” If I ever see that posted in a comment on a website again I think I will lose it… I swear. What an utterly insensitive, cruel, judgmental and wrongheaded thing to say. I understand feeling helpless, angry and sad when young people die in service, especially in a war you may not support. But you need to respect that sacrifice and understand that they didn’t die for some political reason…they died to protect their brothers and sisters, their unit, the ideals we stand for as a country which in many cases is about being the representative of justice, compassion and protection for civilians who have no one to stand between them and death. That’s what America has always tried to stand for, the side of good, the side of justice. Sometimes I read posts where people say, why us? Why should we be out there helping those people? I don’t know…maybe because we are a tiny fragment of the Earth’s population but we use the majority of its resources. Don’t we have a responsibility to give something back in return? Shouldn’t we honor agreements we’ve made with allies? Don’t we have a duty to keep commitments to people who risked everything to help us find and reduce the threats to our nation?

I’ve recently heard from veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts that people have looked at them with disgust when finding out they served in combat. That they’ve been treated shamefully by Americans who feel distaste at reasons we were in Iraq. They had no control over that. I am such a peaceful, compassionate person but I wept silently and was filled with a kind of fierce protectiveness to hear the break in such strong men’s voices, to hear shame for something they had nothing to be ashamed of. To hear stories of young men overcome by it and killing themselves rather than facing that kind of hostility the rest of their lives. Did we learn nothing from Vietnam? I was born after that war but my family raised me to understand that the way veterans were treated during that time was one of America’s greatest shames. How can it possibly be happening again?

All I ask if you are reading this is to please check any knee jerk reaction you might have to the military and the “war.” The people fighting it are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, wives and husbands. Their spouses, children, mothers and fathers are living here in agony waiting for news, dealing with news or trying to adjust to the changed person who has returned.

These folks who enlisted are mostly kids who went in for lots of different reasons, unsurprisingly a lot of them come from poorer families and they were looking for a steady paycheck to provide for a family or a chance to go to college or learn a trade. They dedicated themselves. They worked so hard to make it and then they serve in dangerous and unforgiving places around the world to meet the needs of our country. Honor them. Check this stuff out. Listen to your heart and see where it’s calling you. The media is barely covering this stuff and I can’t tell you how isolating it is to the families to know that America seems to have virtually forgotten them. I know people better than that. They are just like I was, they hadn’t crossed paths with someone who gave them a nudge and changed the way they saw the world forever. I now wish it for everyone.

Tonight I am praying a special prayer. It goes out to my friend and to all those who are suffering.

Father please be with those who are alone with their fretful thoughts tonight. Quiet the images, the noise, the restlessness and the fear. Soothe them, nurture them, give them peace and balm so that they find deep slumber and rest. Stay with them through the night, comfort them, those they love and those who love them. Be with them as they wake, at their rising and as they go about their work…whatever comes. Guard them and protect them, waking or sleeping, always surrounding them with your love. All this I pray in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thanks and Prayer

If you can believe it, the Devil Dog in Charge of Ask-A-Marine has already gotten back to me in answer to my many questions! I can’t thank him enough. If you have any questions related to the Marines, they are definitely the place to start. With the information he gave me I could see my character come completely into focus.

I kicked off my consulting work today. I am looking forward to knowing everything there is to know about making organic peanut butter, but more importantly getting to interview each person and learn it from them. My first interview was extra fun because I had actually met this employee before. The change of scene also flipped that switch I mentioned creatively and I’ve had a killer idea related to my book. It was the best part of my day and it gave me goosebumps. I’ve learned to recognize those moments as almost divine inspiration. Super psyched.

However in the bad news department I have had a friend fall off the radar and I am taking it very hard. I don’t have any verification that it has to do with me, but I am afraid it does. I think I am most upset because I fear that I did something to damage our friendship. I don’t make friends easily and I value them so highly when I do. At this point there is nothing I can do, it’s a damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation. I have to wait and see if they ever want to reach out and if not just accept it. It is almost the worst thing I can imagine to think of someone having to avoid me on purpose. The shame and embarrassment quite literally makes me sick to my stomach. So, yeah, a little queasy today. I have mentioned so often that you should not act from fear, yet here I am doing just that. I suppose it’s in fear that I am inadvertently hurting someone I care about, which is a good reason. I just won’t risk that. The Lord knows I am completely here for my friend in every way if I am mistaken, I just don’t want to impose on them at all.

I wish, wish, wish I had a better sense of boundaries. I think one of the residual effects of my near death experience has always been that people seem to have blurry lines. I see into them more than I should, which is probably why I think people are so amazing and beautiful. But it makes it crazy hard to know when I’ve crossed a line when I don’t see lines well. Sometimes that can be an incredible gift when I instinctively reach out to people to comfort, help, heal, other times it can make me an awkward fool. Like now I suspect.

So tonight I am praying for my friend, though they are far away and may be well shot of me or may be in some sort of difficulty or trouble: Father I ask that you watch over them, at their waking and their sleeping, hide them under the shadow of your wing, be with them faithfully to guide their steps, comfort them, heal them and protect them in this life and in the life to come. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Learning to lose

Sometimes I am grateful God has given me such an open and loving heart. Often I am able to look around and feel his presence surround me. Other times it can feel like a terrible affliction. It may sound strange but unrequited love is not the worst emotional pain you can suffer when you can love intensely. It hurts, don’t  get me wrong. I think it’s just become familiar throughout my life. A far worse pain is loving so much that you are willing to relinquish your selfish desires and wish only for another’s happiness so you can maintain a friendship. Despite that you lose them completely and they slip through your fingers like sand, dust, ashes…gone completely except for the memories in your heart. That’s what hurts most of all. There must be a lesson in this for me, I’ve made this sacrifice more than once and it sucks harder every time.

Not all that long ago I figured out loss is my biggest fear. It’s important to know your biggest fear. It can drive you, make you act in ways that are counter to your character, honor or best interests. You need to be aware. My biggest fear used to be failure and for years it drove me to extreme lengths to be perfect, to succeed, to never make a mistake, to plan for every eventuality. To no avail of course, because everyone fails. In time I learned to embrace failure as a way to grow. I conquered that fear.

Now loss, another part of life has taken its place. I can’t get rid of loss. No one can. You just have to accept it. I used to try and avoid it, numb the pain away. I tried all the old familiar tactics. A shot of whiskey. Burying my feelings. Putting up an impenetrable wall around my heart. Of course none of them worked. I still experienced loss. So now when I feel myself trying to run away from situations that are going to result in loss I am always suspicious of myself. I don’t seek loss, but I don’t need fear of it to make me pass up everything I want.

When it comes I know I have to suffer through it. Sounds terrible doesn’t it? It is. It’s awful. It involves grieving. I had no idea I could cry so much. I spent so many years avoiding tears in my attempt to avoid the pain of loss, I guess I had a lot in reserve.

I cry a few times a day. The ugly kind. Sometimes I curl up in a ball and yell. I’m in pain and it helps. Afterwards I always feel better for a while. Until the next time. I bargain with God. I pray for it to stop. I try and pretend it isn’t happening or didn’t happen. I know that after a while the intensity of my grief will pass. It will become less of an open wound and more of a sore ache. This isn’t my first loss and won’t be my last. I’m learning that this is the only way to effectively deal with it. This is what I was trying so hard to avoid all those years. This.

In times like these I always wonder to myself why in the world I ever allow myself to love anyone. But the truth is I can’t help myself. People are so incredibly lovable. I know there are wicked ones. But so many people are good at heart. They are trying. They are searching. They are lost. They are flawed and still… they are breathtakingly beautiful. Yes when God made me, he designed me to love. I know how to do that better than anything else. It’s who I am. I am learning to let go and learning to lose. Despite my fear I am resolved to stay open. Despite my pain I will stay true. So many people lack love in their lives after all, surely someone out there could use some. I’ve got way too much inside to give.

A Prayer for Thanksgiving

I asked God to take away my pain.
God said, No. It is not for me to take away,
but for you to give it up.
I asked God to make my handicapped child whole.
God said, No. Her spirit was whole, her body was only temporary.
I asked God to grant me patience.
God said No. Patience is a by-product of tribulations;
it isn’t granted, it is earned.
I asked God to give me happiness.
God said No. I give you blessings.
Happiness is up to you.
I asked God to spare me pain.
God said No. Suffering draws you apart from
worldly cares and brings you closer to me.
I asked God to make my spirit grow.
God said, No. You must grow on your own,
but I will prune you to make you more fruitful.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
God said, No. I will give you life so that you
can enjoy all things.
I asked God to help me LOVE others, as much as
He loves me. God said…..Ahhhhh, finally you have the idea.

—Author Unknown

 

 

Heart stopped

Sometimes we are arrested, pole-axed, stricken by beauty and it makes our world stand still. I am not sure how I feel about this experience. After all, it is unanticipated, it takes matters out of your hands and your reaction is pure and whole hearted. The world can look upon your face in that moment and see you in all your nakedness, awe struck and reverent. Worship can be like that, it’s why I find that I close my eyes so often in prayer, it’s why I love the Episcopal liturgy that allows us gracious space for those moments. Part of me longs for more of these moments, and part of me fears them. After all, your heart is stopped, if only for an instant. It takes your breath.

The summer has flown by, a stretch of days enjoying my mother’s company in Richmond while she recovered from surgery, feasting on the Mitford Series by Jan Karon and overdosing on summer TV series and films. I am such an info junkie. The best movie I saw all summer was The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It’s very Not American, and very much the better because of it. The protagonist is a waif like, hard as nails hacker who has learned to bury her softness deep inside and use her rage as a weapon to defend herself. She has an uncompromising sense of right and wrong and in an age where rapists and murderers frequently escape atonement due to extenuating circumstance, she draws a clear line between victim and victimizer. It’s on DVD now, so check it out, if only so you can be amazed by how badly Hollywood will butcher the remake.

I am writing from my new home in Durham, North Carolina. I have arrived and survived my first 2.5 weeks at Duke. Week one was a “pre-week” program for a limited number of students called “Project Bridddge”. During it, we studied the complicated history of Durham, race relations, poverty and class issues. We worked in local programs in the community to begin to see the “real Durham”. We visited a historical plantation, met a famous civil rights leader named Ann Atwater who was incredible and got to know each other. At the end of the week, we shared our experiences and then voted on a specific mission to donate the offering to from the official Divinity School Orientation Day worship. We picked a group called Urban Ministries. Several of us participated in the worship service and it fell to me to describe the organization and why we chose it. I confess that when the incoming Dean of the Divinity School made eye contact, my mind went blank, but I managed to get the main details out and make a passionate appeal on their behalf. Urban Ministries is downtown and feeds 200-250 people at each meal, 3 meals a day every day. They also operate a food pantry, and when we entered I was dismayed to see the shelves were bare in some of the categories. (No macaroni and cheese or boxed foods, only a few canned goods) Needless to say, I lobbied hard for this group as did others in my group who spent time there. I had the opportunity to eat with and visit with people who were having lunch there the day we went and it will definitely  be a place I donate food and time to in the future. We raised a nice amount of money from the offering, nearly doubling last year’s amount. Yay!

Orientation was pretty intense, with information and lectures on every topic imaginable from early in the morning until late in the afternoon for three days straight. I particularly enjoyed a lecture on Spiritual Formation and one on Harassment. Harassment? Yes, well I also didn’t think I had anything to learn after endless corporate seminars on this topic, but I was wrong. I am guessing many of the students (200+) in the audience were re-evaluating their behavior in light of the presentation and wondering if they may have ever inadvertently made someone uncomfortable. Thought provoking.

I secured a work study at the Institute for the Care at End of Life which is right up my alley. I am loving it. I have attended several Anglican Episcopal House of Studies events, including a retreat earlier today and am so happy to be here. I quite adore Dr. Bailey-Wells who has such a steady and sure energy about her and demonstrates a love for the church that is encouraging. I’ve already attended two Eucharists she has celebrated and they were along the lines of what I grew up with, though in Virginia, some would describe that as high. I find it comforting and reassuring. Especially in the midst of so much newness.

There is so much that is new here. A new home, a large 4 bedroom house I am sharing with a perfectly wonderful house mate. She is an English professor at North Carolina Central University. She is not here most evenings, so it is a teeny bit lonely, but once I get little Tucker here I think it will be less so. Nothing like a snuggly Yorkie to make you feel comfy. The house itself is very nice. I have both a bedroom and office, storage in the attic and then share the downstairs which has a giant kitchen, dining room and living room. There is a large deck out back. I am hankering after a rocking chair or Adirondack to sit out there and watch the birds and squirrels.

There are lots of new people to meet. Most of whom are younger than me. This never bothered me at Hollins, where it was not an issue at all. Here, unaccountably it seems to be one. I quite like one of the administrators I work with at the ICEOL, who seems more like a peer. I also have met a few people in my classes whom I have enjoyed great conversations with. But as for off hours socializing, well that’s never been my thing as my friends in Roanoke can attest to. I’m a few special friends kind of person. I like to have my own little tribe of friends and then we parachute in for events. In a nice way of course. I call it The Wicked Tribe. It’s invitation only. It originally started as a group of singletons at an Internet Conference called Shop.org back in the freewheeling days of my corporate life. We banded together at an evening event at Disney’s California Park, played games, rode rides, ate and drank together and generally had a fine old time. Since then, wherever I’ve gone I’ve found people standing with some mixture of disdain, disinterest or puzzlement on the fringes and gathered them to me. I’ve discovered that, no shocker here, they are always the most interesting and eclectic of the bunch. Which suits me down to the ground, being no lost in the herd kind of girl myself.

In all the orienting and logistics of moving and the anxiety of OMIGOD I have to move again, I completely forgot why I was here…the classes. So I was pleasantly shocked when the first one arrived and I was transfixed. It just happened to be Introduction to New Testament Greek, and I kind of fell in love with it, but still. It reminded me, Oh yeah, there’s a REASON, I’m doing all this. For the longest I was just operating on the “Because God said to” model, not really thinking about the fact that I might like it. But boy howdy, do I like it. There’s Church History with a lecturer named Dr. Warren Smith who is erudite, witty, and possesses a vast amount of knowledge of all things church historical. I love listening to him. I am reminded at every moment that he speaks of how very little I know…but I feel that changing with every second I spend in his class.  Yay Dr. Smith!

Back to Greek, my professor is named Nathan Eubank . It’s hard to pick a teacher sight unseen, so I Googled them and I liked what Professor Eubank said on a few esoteric websites. I am SO glad I did that. He is funny, creative and encouraging. It’s a challenging class, and frustrating because there are only 5 girls in a class of 25, so I already feel surrounded by testosterone. In addition, most of the boys are just that, boys. Their brains are still squishy and young and they memorize with ease. You can just see it go in and stick. I, on the other hand, have to flog my older brain like a sluggish pack mule. Maybe I could take some kind of vitamin. If only I could stand to eat fish. Ick. Yet still, it’s my favorite class. When I can read a word, or make sense of a declension I feel *such* a surge of adrenaline. I think to myself that I really WILL be able to read the Bible in Greek in the near future and I feel my heart about to burst. Yeah, I am determined, it will happen. Then there is my Intro to Old Testament Class. Keep in mind that my Church History and Intro  to Old Testament classes have over 200 students in them. We do meet later in a smaller precept course for discussion on another day. My Old Testament teacher is the same person who gave the Harrassment lecture, Dr. Anathea Portier-Young. She is a brilliant scholar who interprets the OT in such a serious and thought provoking way. It’s like she takes every line and unpacks it, giving us the Hebrew and adding context, explaining its place in the whole…it’s incredible. I’ve never heard/read the OT this way. I also have Anglican and regular Spiritual formation classes. In regular Spiritual formation, you share your spiritual call story with a small group and a leader from the Duke community. My leader is Father Rommen, an Orthodox priest. He seems a wonderful fellow. In Anglican Spiritual Formation, it’s a little more demanding, with commitments of attendance to events and to morning prayer. I quite enjoy the discipline.

My last class is Introduction to the Ministry of Social Work. In it we will read about the intersection of Christianity and Social Work throughout the centuries and in modern society. Since I am keenly interested in pastoral care, especially for those near death and dying, I felt this was the best match out of the classes offered to me. There were two classes I really wanted to take but they were only open to second years. I have them on my to do list. One is an Exegesis of Luke class and one is about Death and Grief.

I feel as though I am about to dive into a river at full flood. I am not sure how often I will surface to reflect and add to my blog. I hope I will be able to write often, because I will doubtless need to reflect on this transformational time. If my workload and the intensity of the study is any guide however, I am not sure that will be the case. I came home last night, my first Friday of classes, and fell into bed at 6:30 p.m. I woke at 9:00 a.m. this morning. Other than answering a phone call, I slept the night through. Phew! I was exhausted. This is only the beginning.

Should I pray for strength? I will. Should I pray for an open mind and heart? I do pray that, daily…

What I  really pray is that I will survive those heart stopping moments with grace and ask no more of them than that they continue.