What I Did On My Summer Vacation

I had lunch with a friend a couple of weeks ago who asked what I’ve been doing with my time since I haven’t been working.

A fat lot of nothing. 

Riiiiiiight. (You didn’t really believe that did you? Not even for a second.)

What I’ve been doing with my summer vacation. Which basically started with Memorial Day weekend…

Went to ATL for the 2013 new baby tour. It was a road-trip that started at 9:00 PM on a Friday with decaffeinated me behind the wheel. It was touch and go until Suit and Tie came on the radio–and then it was a three hour dance party in the driver’s seat from Gaffney, SC to Suwanee, GA. We rolled in at 2:30 AM. Hey. Whatever works. (Also, WHY ARE ALL THESE PEOPLE ON THE ROAD, TOO?) But those babies are super sweet. And their parents are managing well–all things considered.

Worked on putting documents together and obtaining a passport for my Ukrainian born child to deal with citizenship stuff and learned that bureaucracy is bureaucracy regardless of the nation’s government. When Boy #1 says “This is like being in Ukraine” as you run all over the county in which you live to obtain the right forms and this one government agency only works 8:00-3:00 and you show up at 4:30 and realize you’ll have to make the trek back downtown the next day, you realize that (a) perhaps you picked the wrong line of work (I mean with hours like 8-3, come on) and (b) this mess really is crazy

Took a random, spontaneous trip to the beach with my best friend and her family while the hubs drove my new car home from Ohio and in and around Raleigh until I got home two days later. He hasn’t sat behind that steering wheel much since.

Hubs and I took the East Bloc Boys (our collective reference to the teenage boys living under our roof) to DC to deal with the Ukrainian’s citizenship and–when we realized that wasn’t going to happen without a US passport–proceeded to spend a few days playing in DC instead. Museums, metro stops, and food trucks, oh my!

Attended the graduation of my Hungarian born child (Boy #2 who moved in in April) and sent him off to his first day at a new job

Received the report card for Boy #1 and was more than a little frustrated with the results

Learned that Boy #1 was going to be fired–primarily due to complications with some faulty brain wiring that is beyond his control but increasingly becoming a hindrance–and started planning for the possibility of meds and more testing to see if there’s something more or better that we can do. Also became a little afraid of his options for the future. Meanwhile, he didn’t seem to be too concerned about anything in his world. And then frustration set in.

Interviewed for a job. Was offered the job. Didn’t know at that point where exactly the job would be. But I’ll have a job.

Left the kids at home while hubs and I went to the beach for a few days. Alone. With no agenda. Glorious.

Opened our home for weekly game nights with the youth. Their means of world domination via board game was pretty entertaining. Also, the secret is out about the awesomeness of my cookie dough dip.

I got more creative in the kitchen, making up recipes as I went–often inspired by road-trip snacks and/or food truck experiences. And those culinary experiments generally were successful.

Temporarily found some really good body confidence–long enough to sport a bikini on the beach. For the first time. Ever.

Helped a friend pack up his office to move to a new job after 13 years.

Celebrated a friend’s 30th birthday and another friend’s family adopting a child they’ve tried to bring home for far too long

Opened my home and my dinner table to countless people (we finally had to break out the leaves for the dining room table and USE ALL THE CHAIRS)

Had lunch and/or coffee with people–for more than 15 minutes. Those conversations often stretched over two hours.

Brought a third teenager home to live with us–this time a girl.

Realized once again that my life is a circus and I’m the ringmaster. Until the inmates run the asylum. And then I just leave.

Had beautiful conversations with family and friends

Was truly honored to be invited into some of the most important moments and conversations in others’ lives

Got a job assignment that was totally unexpected but has made me incredibly excited the more I sit with it.

Got thoroughly pissed off with the state government and was ready to junk punch some politicians–or a wall. Supported Moral Monday from afar–lest my anger push me to do something stupid before this job thing really came through.

Started scheming ways to take over the world–in a good way.

Realized that this whole youth ministry thing I started on the summer before college has come full circle. I learned along the way that there are many ways to do youth ministry–and often outside of church. I also made the statement at one point that once I became a youth minister, I’d have a psychologist in my back pocket as a resource. Then I became that psychologist.

Pulled together a stack of books classified as thematic professional reading that I’m slowly making my way through

Seriously considered getting the “Mom’s Taxi” for my car because it’s true. Especially the week of youth camp when I’m the only licensed driver in the house and have two teens to care for.

Tried to let it sink in that I have finished school and have a PhD. Definitely became increasingly thankful for the training, experiences, and opportunities I have had along the way.

Stalked one of my favorite people from a parking lot into a bookstore to make sure it really was her–and then had an hour and a half long conversation standing around another store in the same shopping area.

Became a stand-in on-call fake doula for a baby who was born about two weeks later (and the daddy was home for the whole thing…which meant I could celebrate with the announcement text). 

Consulted on emerging adult male/female relationships

Provided unofficial parenting consultation

Fell madly in love with US Marshall Raylan Givens as I became addicted to the show Justified.

Worked out in the sweatbox that is my garage–sometimes twice a day. Just because I could.

Met neighbors I hadn’t met before because I started walking the dog more after a redistribution of household responsibilities

Seriously considered a new blog about DIY furniture and house projects–to be called pigtails and power tools. This after having to supply my dad with a drill or two after the battery in his cordless died as he was trying to put together a new bed. (Note: one of those drills was the same electric drill he handed down to me years ago when I moved out; also, that old faithful Black and Decker has helped us finish projects the battery packs on the cordless just couldn’t. Moral of the story: well, I think you know.)

Filled up a social calendar like never before

Received beautiful and powerful words of affirmation and hugs from people who’ve watched me grow as a person and professional over the past X number of years

Went back to yoga (kinda) and ate more fresh veggies. (Olives dipped in hummus, y’all)

Loved bigger because hubs does.

Realized that children stuck in rough family situations are my kryptonite

Struggled against having so many people in the house and this basically became my mantra about half the time. 

Saw some movies. In the theater. Even when I kinda didn’t want to. (Side note: Pacific Rim = Godzilla + Iron Man(steroids) + Independence Day speech + Armageddon)

Worked on my licensure application and found that I still had some brain matter that could ooze out of my ears. It’s just about finished though. The application, that is.

Survived monsoon season in NC this year–WITHOUT an Ark of my own

Drank the Candy Crush Kool-Aid (Note to Kool-Aid: new flavor idea!)

Finally was invited to new employee orientation and can for really real get this job thing going.

Ran outside. On some big hills. Early in the morning. And usually thought I was swimming instead. #NChumidsummers

Doled out resources in the form of book titles, notes from books I’d read, links to really great articles, and just putting some thoughts on paper

Read a few really good novels.

Squeezed some babies

Baked. A lot. And apparently even my cookies are therapeutic.

Survived #singleparentweek2013 while Al and Ryan were at camp.

Celebrated some more birthdays. Ran with my girls. Enjoyed some group therapy on a screened in porch. Celebrated new jobs with my people.

Scheduled at least half a dozen meetings/appointments to take me through my last full week of no paid work. What vacation?

And then I went to that orientation, got my shiny new ID badge, signed a bunch of forms and forked over a voided check. This job thing is official. I start Thursday.



Situation Normal, Part 4

Working in church as it is now requires a lot of energy. I still don’t have it and Mom’s been gone for 6 years. So I may not ever get it back.

Then again, even if I did have the energy, I wouldn’t do ministry the way it’s always been done. Which means I probably wouldn’t get hired by a church.

Because if I’m a youth minister, I’m going to talk to your teenager(s) about sex. And gender. And media. And I’m going to provide a space for them to question and think and encourage them to do so. And teach them that there’s no dichotomy between the contemplative life and the active life. And most of you, churches, don’t like it when I do that. Or when any other youth minister does it. Because most of you, churches, like things in a nice, neat package that can be marketed to the larger community.

God doesn’t work like that, so why should that be the nature of my ministry?

And if I’m a youth minister in a church, I’ll be having series for parents. We can talk about parenting teenagers in this increasingly complex world. We ought to. And I will coach you on how to talk to your teenager(s) about sex and set limits and make good decisions…and not be so dang entitled.

And I won’t be feeding the youth ministry machine. Don’t get me wrong. I would provide opportunities for various types of growth and we’d still do the mission trips and youth camps. But…God is not a machine and church shouldn’t be either.

So often, however, church is a machine. And it chews you up and spits you out. And I’ve seen far FAR too much of that lately. So much so that it makes me want to gather my tribe and start another new church (because they’re isn’t already one on every block in the South).

But then I remember that I don’t have the energy for all that. At least, I don’t think I do. Not right now.

So my plan for now is to finish this PhD. And write a book on the coming of age of girls—because no one has synthesized all that lately. And write parent training materials for prospective adoptive parents. And do parent training for the rest of us. And throw in some counseling and advocacy for good measure. And that’s just my professional life.

Situation Normal, Part 1

Those of you who are familiar with fun military acronyms know where I’m headed with that title. I thought it appropriate given that this post is about the path I began to forge that took me away from working in church.

When I started in divinity school, I looked for a job as a youth minister–because it was what I was called to do in the end…and because I had bills to pay. Nothing panned out and I found myself doing my usual job of working in some sort of daycare facility. Let’s face it. That isn’t a lucrative job when you work it full-time. I was only able to work part-time because of my class schedule. After one semester, I knew I needed a new job or a new living situation. I opted for the latter because my best friend and I BOTH needed better paying jobs–but perhaps between our measly paychecks, we could pay rent.

And then I got a job working as the graduate assistant for campus ministry at Campbell. I joined a long line of wonderful ministers who at one point worked as the BSU intern for Terry-Michael Newell. I kinda liked campus ministry, but I realized that year that I still hadn’t quite recovered from my own experience as a student in BSU (a completely different story for a different time), and I decided to make what could have been a two-year contract only one. In the end, it made T-M’s job easier because they were going to cease funding one of his assistants anyway. That decision had already been made in my mind, but it was further solidified when my mom died very unexpectedly at the end of that April. I suddenly found myself focusing on other things–and having no energy left over for doing ministry.

I moved home–another decision that had  been made prior to Mom’s death–and another decision to which I stuck. As Dad and I tried to pick up the pieces, I continued school and went back to working with children at the afterschool program at my church. I also got sucked in to a lay leadership position, which I took on not realizing just how little energy I had.

And then came Supervised Ministry. It was easy to find a location. It just so happened to be an incredibly difficult situation for many reasons. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say it was a GREAT learning experience. That left me even more depleted.

Al and I were also trying to figure out how to pay bills and who was going to work what job and the financial feasibility of the whole marriage thing. One random afternoon at Campbell, I had an impromptu interview with a pastor who was looking for a youth minister–preferably one who understood military culture. We sat in the conference room and talked and I really liked him. He kinda reminded me of Donald Sutherland, too. Not long after that conversation, I received a phone call asking me to come for a more formal interview with the youth council and personnel folks. The pastor and his wife took us to dinner, showed us around town, told us about the church and the youth ministry and I got a more detailed description of what I would be doing if I took the job.

By the end of the night, they offered me the job.

I told them I’d have to think about it.

And I did. And each time I did, I felt physically exhausted. At my gut level, I knew this wasn’t the job for me. I could do it, but not for long. I simply didn’t have the energy or the drive anymore.

A different church called and asked if I’d consider taking their youth ministry job. By that time, I knew I didn’t have the energy for ministry. Not the way most churches expect their youth minister to do it. And I set my sights toward something else.

It was about a year after Mom’s death and I started looking at the possibility of doing Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at WakeMed in Raleigh. Campbell Div students had had a good experience there–and have seemingly since taken over. The application is a beast, but I finally did it–sitting facing a window looking out over a river at a friend’s house in New Bern. And I was accepted for the fall unit–for the semester that was my last at Campbell and during which I got married. We moved all of our stuff to Apex that Labor Day weekend.

While doing CPE, I realized many things. Among them, I realized that I really am more oriented toward direct service. I learned exceedingly well in church that, though you are on staff as a minister, the bulk of your work isn’t ministry–it’s administration. I also realized, while visiting a patient who was in the hospital after a failed suicide attempt, that I really missed psychology and I wanted to do counseling.

Unfortunately, getting an M.Div. makes you a one-trick pony.

I knew I’d have to go back to school.

Why I Was Going To Work In Church

Growing up, I had a really good church experience. I wasn’t in one of those ultra-conservative, dogmatic churches. I didn’t have family that pushed religion on me. I came to a lot of Christianity with the help of both church and family—but in a way that was mine.

So I liked church. I mean…really liked church. It was the center of much of my life and the place I met some of my closest friends. It was the place that provided a solid foundation for my faith, where I learned that—contrary to popular opinion—women could be (and were) ordained, not only as deacons but also as ministers, where everyone knew my name (a la Norm from Cheers).

Let me be clear. This church was not without its issues. But it did the work of the Kingdom in spite of those issues. And I’m thankful.

When I went to college, I joined the Baptist Student Union (BSU) on campus and learned about summer missions opportunities. My first summer as a college student, I worked as a Youth Corps worker (read: summer youth minister) for a small-ish church in a rural part of the state. Once again, it was a really good experience. The pastor was great—as a pastor, supervisor, mentor and friend. He and the church trusted me with their children and youth and allowed me to try just about anything. The work I was doing—and I myself—were supported by these wonderful folks. And I confirmed my call to youth ministry that summer.

A few years later, I had the opportunity to work at a much larger church as a volunteer with a fantastic group of youth led by one of my favorite youth ministers ever. I followed that year up with being the intern for the summer—and once again loved the work I did and the people with whom I did it. Once again, the church was not without its issues. But it worked.

And so I went off, at the end of that summer, to divinity school—and a trajectory that led to working in church. I was excited about the opportunity to provide ways to lay a solid foundation to teenagers—especially as they moved from a concrete way of thinking to a more abstract way of thinking and reasoning. I wanted to help them learn about the world around them—its craziness, its brokenness, its pain, its beauty, its mystery. I wanted to help them engage that world in a way that was meaningful and authentic for them and who each of them was as a child of God. And I wanted all of us to have a little fun along the way.