On Crying in Meetings

I confess. I have cried in professional meetings. Many times. In fact, three weeks ago in a meeting I cried so hard that I could barely speak.

A few things to keep in mind. First, I work in ministry. I’m not a PepsiCo executive sitting at a boardroom table crying over shrinking distribution numbers or a software engineer suddenly overcome with emotion because I screwed up a line of code.

Also, I’m not much of a crier in general even though my maternal family is full of criers. My grandpa can never make it through the dinner prayer if any of his grandkids are at the table. My mom has been known to cry during commercials and in restaurants. I may be equally tenderhearted, but I probably cry (the kind with tears sliding down my face) less than ten times a year.

So when I cry, it means something. My soul is engaged. Something I deeply care about is being probed.

As a pastor, I work both with people and for people, as an advocate. I regularly step into messy situations and respond to raw emotions. In 15 years of ministry, I’ve witnessed premeditated acts of hate and their aftermath. I’ve been a first responder to traumatic events like attempted sexual assault. I’ve been the person who showed up in the middle of the night, took the bottle of Advil out of shaking hands, and called for help. In my office, people process some of their most intense experiences — the effects of abuse, the loss of a loved one, rejection, mental illness, loss of faith, suicidal thoughts, and sexual issues.

This is not the kind of work you can do well and remain untouched. You can have great boundaries in ministry and still need to cry. Sometimes tears are the only way to expunge some of the toxins you’ve been exposed to.

My dearest hope is that my “work” reflects the deep love that God has for each and every human being. Since I ultimately serve God, it’s important to me that I strive for excellence in my work. I exercise best practices in counseling. I attend conferences for professional development. I read new research and consult the works of experts in the many fields that affect Biblical studies, ministry, and theology. I believe that ethics are as important to a ministry environment as they are to any other work setting. All that to say, I’m a professional. I try to be the best professional I can be.

But I still cry in meetings.

As a Christian pastor, the Bible is the most important book in my life. I believe its pages tell the story of God’s love for all people and reveal God’s plan of redemption for broken individuals. In a world that is slowly but painfully wasting away, I believe that the message of Jesus is the greatest news. His words are hope for the disillusioned and for aimless wanderers. They are a fresh breath of life for the suffering, the oppressed, and the depressed. They’re a warm light for all the people forgotten in the dark or dirty corners of our streets. God’s story and his life-giving words are precious to me.

Because I love God and his word so dearly, it can be tough to live in a pluralistic society that denigrates the church, the Bible, and the people who worship one God exclusively. Sometimes that makes me cry.

But I think it’s far more painful to be a Christian among other Christians. It’s disheartening to sit down with your spiritual family, to read the Bible together, and to have such divergent views of the same text. This is a book we all revere and cherish because it’s God’s. We are all sincere and loving, and we serve God well in our unique ways. We even love each other. So it doesn’t feel good when we disagree. It hurts to see smirks or eyes roll as someone shares their opinion. It’s painful when people make light of topics or passages that impact other people every day. It’s dismaying when we see each other’s blindnesses but we can’t find a way to gently expose them.

So this month I cried in a meeting.

But no matter who I am with when I cry in meetings, I usually walk away feeling a little embarrassed. Our culture isn’t very welcoming to public displays of emotion, is it? We’re even less accepting of emotions in the workplace. There’s an unspoken belief that strong emotions are a sign of immaturity, or weakness, or irrationality, or overreaction, or instability, or of (said in a hushed tone) being hormonal. And those things don’t fit the excellent or professional persona, so tears are generally unacceptable at the office. Instead, our culture champions clear logic, precise speech, and undisturbed rationality.

After I cry during a meeting, I worry that people think less of me. That they will regard me like a whiny puppy who just needs a pat on the head to be quieted. And I hate thinking that my tears may make others disregard my words altogether.

But here are some things that I believe are true about emotions. All human beings have them. We all have a wide range of emotions that we can experience: from rage to sorrow to utter joy. I believe God designed us this way. It’s we humans who choose to either express or suppress our emotions. Which way is healthier?

I also believe that God gave us brains capable of keen intellect, logic, and impressive creativity. The same brain that houses these things also houses our emotions. We are all both rational and emotional beings. Both things make us human. Both reflect the image of God.

So why is laughter safe and respectable in a meeting, but tears are not? Why do we prize rationality but look askance when people express their emotions? And why do we always talk about rationality and emotions like they are the opposite ends of a spectrum? They may be closer together than we think. We might be wise to consider that they are linked.

There have been times in meetings when I was crying and thinking clear thoughts at the same time. Imagine that! Now, sometimes it is hard to verbally articulate my thoughts amid the stirring emotions, but that doesn’t mean I am just a puddle of messy feelings. My identity is not reduced. Instead, what you are witnessing is a powerful moment of realization, something deeply true that finally crystallizes, or a strongly held belief that’s been triggered. Such moments are rarely emotionless.

When I cry in a meeting it’s because my mind is engaged. In these moments I am, perhaps, more fully human because I’m experiencing and expressing thought and emotion at the same time. My brain is firing on all cylinders. You may think it looks messy, but maybe you could learn to see the beauty too.

When I cry, I hope you will learn to read my tears. This is what my tears might say — this is a very important topic to me. What we are talking about has very real implications for me, or for you, or for people who we love. That thing you just said? It was either deeply true or it missed the marked, but it certainly moved me to respond. Sometimes my tears say that I’m grieving. Sometimes they say that you’ve caused me pain. Emotions are a language all their own.

So rather than avoiding eye contact or patting me on the head, would you offer me an equally human response? When you see my tears, would you sit up and pay better attention? Would you consider, or even ask, what my tears are saying? Would you be patient if it takes me time to get the words out? And would you offer me more compassion than I’ve come to expect, and not think less of me?

I cry during meetings. When I was a young professional I would apologize profusely, swipe away the tears, and try to tamp down my emotions. I rarely do that anymore. I’ve learned to be kind to myself and to not be ashamed of being a human being who feels. I’ve come to accept that this is just a part of who I am.

I love and serve a God who grieves when his people suffer, and when they wander far from him. I think my tears are often a reflection of the heart of God. 

When I cry, when I express any emotion, I’m being human. I’m resisting the tight bindings of cultural norms because there are just some things that need to be expressed. Triumphs and tragedies call us to respond. I want to be the kind of person who listens and responds well to the needs of the world around me. I hope my tears invite others to be and do the same.

I cry in meetings. If my tears make you uncomfortable, so be it. I’m being real. I probably won’t stop any time soon. And we might all be better for it.

A Good Friday Lament for Child Loss and Childlessness

Good Friday is a day for difficult reflection. It’s a day we remember a tragic death. We remember that Jesus hung on a cross to die for the sins of the world.

This year I was asked by a neighboring pastor to lead a Good Friday service for his church. It was a unique request–could I lead a service of lament and remembrance for those who have suffered miscarriage or infertility? As we talked, prayed and planned, we decided to expand the service to minister to anyone who has experienced any kind of child loss or childlessness: infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS, failed surrogacy or adoption, abortion, or any other circumstance.

As a former hospital chaplain assigned to the high-risk pregnancy and neonatal intensive care units, I had an idea where to begin. As an aunt to two miscarried babies, I knew something of the sensitivity needed.

So we began with lament. We set our pain and grief before God through corporate readings and song. We prayed and poured out our hearts before the Lord.

From there we moved into acts of remembrance and healing. We lit 41 candles for children lost or hoped for. I anointed sisters and brothers with oil for healing of body and spirit. We went to the communion table and received Christ’s body and blood so that God would sustain us as we heal, and wait, and hope.

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Then we let Jesus’ words minister to us through Lectio Divina:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is kind and my burden is light.      Matthew 11:28-30

I wrote a prayer of response to this whole movement of souls:

Jesus Christ, Son of God who hung upon the cross in agony—
Remember our suffering, sorrow, and loss.
Help us come to you when we want to run and hide.
Replace this heavy yoke of grief with one that is kind and easier to carry;
We need your holy rest.

Living and eternal Savior,
Heal and restore us.
Gently teach us how to live with joy.
Resurrect our hope that you are good at all times and in every way.
Supply the resilience we need to live in broken bodies and a broken world, until you
Come and make all things new.


Too often the church remains silent about the pain and grief we experience because it make us (pastors) uncomfortable. Or, we tell ourselves, that the plans we have for our services and sermons can’t be interrupted. But child loss and childlessness burdens too many people for the church to ignore this pain.

1 out of every 10 couples experience infertility.

At least 1 in 4 women will experience a miscarriage in her lifetime.

God lost his one and only son to death.

The church should be a safe place to cry out our every pain and suffering. A place to weep. A place where we give ourselves over to the mysterious, healing work of the Holy Spirit. A place where we stretch our empty arms toward the God who knows our loss.

So tonight a small branch of the church gathered. Tonight we cried out like God’s people have done for centuries. We sat in the quiet–waiting, listening–and expecting that God was at work in us.

At the end of this Good Friday, we left candles burning before the cross and went home knowing that God heard our prayers.

May resurrection and new life come soon.

Missing is Good

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Photo by Greg Rakozy

I miss singing with a choir. The heat of bodies standing close. That gently gathered breath before the first note. The intensity of listening to others. Voices jabbing notes, caressing others. The intricacies of rhythm, of adjusting tone, shape, and volume to let the music tell its story. The dance of the conductor. The hush after the last note.

I miss acting. Bringing story to life through speech and silence, movement and stillness, light and fabric and color. This grown-up version of pretend is a dazzling work of imagination, play, experimentation, planning, and instinct. Oh, the nerves that made me pace and cough before a performance! The buzz in my ears and fingertips and toes when I stepped onto stage. The pride of captivating an audience and using their energy to fuel a palpable art. The satisfaction of hanging up your costume and turning off the lights for the night. The eagerness to do the same thing tomorrow.

I miss playing euchre with Midwesterners. The long, cold winters that forced us into one another’s homes for an evening of cards and laughter. The elaborate table talk my mother and her best friend developed over years of teaming up against their husbands. The house rules that were debated and haggled over at each new table. Even when you lost a match you made a friend, because that’s how Midwesterners roll.

I miss holding baby nieces and nephews. The trembling newness of being an aunt. Of being part of a tribe to welcome little ones into the world. Making my littles laugh. Joining their babble. Kissing fat cheeks and singing them to sleep. The joy of handing them to their parents when a diaper needed changing. Chubby hands curled around my fingers as they toddled. Reading and writing them stories to grow on.

I miss living in Hawaii. The sweet smell of my morning walk to work. The chill of afternoon rain falling from cloudless indigo skies. And then the majestically puffy cloud ranges. The brilliantly green geckos. Church potlucks, a revolutionary fusion of pan-Asian Polynesian dishes and SPAM. Chickens crossing the road. Waves crossing the road. Courteous, unhurried driving. Living the aloha way.

I miss summer nights in Ohio. The cricket symphony. Chasing the glow of fireflies with neighbor kids. Driving down country roads with my brother, the windows down, our arms sticking out and slicing through the wind like plane wings.

I miss living two buildings away from my best friend.

I miss a lot of things. So much has come and gone in my life, but I’m not sad. I’m not wallowing or wishing for something else.

Missing things is fine. It’s healthy. It reminds me that I’ve experienced so much of life’s utter beauty. I’ve witnessed. I’ve noticed. I’ve grasped. I’ve risked. I’ve joined. I’ve welcomed.

Missing is goodness that moves you.

Missing is not the same as regret. It notices change and acknowledges loss. Sometimes missing aches, but it isn’t always painful. Missing does not judge the things that fill my life now. It doesn’t look at the differences between now and then and say — if only. It says instead — how rich!

Sometimes, like tonight, missing things is an invitation. A whispered gift.

Maybe missing things matures our thanksgiving. It’s easy to be thankful for what we have and hold dear now. It’s more to be thankful for the things we used to have, experiences we can’t relive, people we’ve said goodbye to, and moments that will never shine the same way twice.

When we miss, but live happily, curiously, and hopefully — then missing is an act of worship.

 

The Break

This spring I was working very part-time at a church while I continued a multi-year search for a full-time, permanent position. I was strapped for cash and hope. As I marked my 250th job application, I felt overlooked and frustrated.

The waiting was the hardest part of those years. For all of the hours I spent searching the internet, applying for jobs, and praying, I spent hundreds more waiting. I learned then that waiting can deplete energy faster than any other activity.

As the waiting stretched on, I began to feel diminished. I joked more than once that I was experiencing brain atrophy, but I wasn’t laughing. I was so emotionally exhausted that sometimes I lost my train of thought and stopped in the middle of a sentence. The worst thing in all of this was feeling like I’d lost touch with the vibrant person I am.

Last winter, during the miserable waiting, I went on a spiritual retreat and spent an hour slowly walking a labyrinth. The path was shaped by mismatched rocks on top of sparse Arizona earth. I was so focused on the rhythm of my steps and my prayers, that I missed most of my surroundings. But then, there was a moment when I looked ahead, saw, and stopped. On the ground along a particularly sharp corner of the labyrinth, was a sprig of pale green topped with a single flower. The petals were an apricot color kissed with sunshine. It was a desert poppy, its presence so cheerful and carefree in the middle of so much dust, that I started to cry.

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This is the color of my spirit, I thought. This is the joy I’ve lost touch with.

A couple of weeks after that, I applied for the job in Hawaii and few weeks later the principal called to offer me the job. I’d told God that couldn’t face another month of idling, so even though the job was temporary, I accepted it as a gift straight from Heaven. Working with children had never been on my professional bucket list, but I’ve always loved kids, so I thought — why not? At the very least, it would be a break from financial stress and job searching. I was sure to learn something new. To stimulate and engage my mind again. The change might revive my energy and maybe the youthfulness of the students would slough away some of my calluses.

Now it’s December and my last week in Hawaii. It’s been seven months packed with rich experiences, far too many to recount here. The students did revive me. Everywhere I went on campus I’d hear, “Hello Chaplain Gustafson!” Sometimes it was Gusterson, Guftasin, or Gustussin, but it was always endearing. The children just saw me. They accepted me and loved me. I never felt like I had to prove myself to them or perform for them. I could just be me, offer whatever was in my spirit that day, and that was enough. This is the kind of hospitality that extended job searching had sucked out of my life.

One of the most beautiful things about Hawaiian culture is the tradition of giving a flower lei. Most visitors think this is a cute, touristy thing that only happens at the airport or in the lobbies of fancy hotels. For those who live here, giving a lei is a sign of affection and respect. You give one to mark a special achievement or occasion, but more importantly, to honor the recipient.

For almost every chapel I led this fall, the class helping me would present me with a lei. This ring of flowers always came with words of thanks and a hug that I would have to kneel to receive. Their variety and colors dazzled. Their sweet fragrance circled me all day, everywhere I went. With a lei around my neck, I couldn’t go unnoticed; their scent drew people to me.

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Because of my story before Hawaii, lei have spiritual significance to me. Each time someone placed one around my neck, a piece of my exhaustion fell away. As flowers piled up, frustrations lost their weight. Just a few months ago I felt invisible and diminished, but now I feel strong and happy. Receiving these lei was like being hugged by God — there was no chance of staying small. Thanks to God, thanks to this job and a promise of a future job, and thanks to these beautiful, giving children, joy is a regular experience again. I’m in full bloom.

A few weeks ago I walked to work in a downpour. I waded through ankle-deep puddles, got splashed by passing cars and sighed as my umbrella leaked drops of cold rain on my head. I am not a morning person, so walking through a storm at 7am put me in a terrible mood. But as I passed the pool on my way to the chapel, there was a break in the gray clouds above the trees. Behind them I could see clear blue sky threaded with brilliant rays of sunlight.

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There I was, waterlogged and grumpy, but God was winking. Welcoming me to a new day. Reminding me that there are good things to come.

Seeing the break in the clouds, I smiled, and hoped.

The Day You Said “I Do”

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The year I graduated from college I received 17 wedding invitations. Though it was difficult to decide, I could only afford to attend a few, so I chose the weddings of my three closest friends. The first wedding was in a city church and the reception in an old bank building with 20-foot granite columns and gleaming green floors the color of dollar bills. The next was a homegrown affair in the bride’s backyard. The chickens, donkey and dogs were relocated for the day, a flower-covered arbor set in the corner with the grills far enough away so the smell of barbecue ribs and rocky mountain oysters wouldn’t be mistaken for the groom’s cologne. The bride and I spent four hours the night before baking batch after batch of rice krispy treats which we sculpted into a large castle, complete with turrets, for the many underage guests. The third wedding was a simple, elegant affair in a formal garden on an estate, followed by a dinner cruise which boasted an open bar and a DJ.

To date, I’ve probably attended around 40 weddings as well as fulfilling various roles at them: flower girl, guest book attendant, gift attendant, babysitter, cake server, song leader and soloist. I’ve been a bridesmaid four times and now, as a pastor, I’ve officiated a few weddings, one of which took place under a dripping palm tree at the wind-whipping tail end of an Arizona monsoon.

Weddings, I’ve learned, are as diverse as the couples they honor. But for all that diversity – for all the poignant walks down the aisle, the beautiful music, the first dances, the funny and sentimental toasts – nothing beats the moment when a couple takes their vows.

Vows are what make a wedding something more than a party we throw to celebrate our friends. When you stop and think about life and our culture, it’s truly an uncommon thing to stand before a public audience and before God, to pledge your life to someone else. Whether the language is formal or casual, traditional or unique, long-winded or concise, all vows say, in essence – I’m all in, forever, with you.

Even as a happy single person I am deeply affected by these moments, these vows. Pause and think of the magnitude of saying, I love you in such a way that I will put your needs before my own. The weight, both joyful and challenging, of living up to such love! Each marriage is a new creation, and vows are the moment of incarnation. My eyes are usually dry at weddings until the vows. That’s when my tears flow like cheap champagne; it’s a moment, an event, beautiful to behold.

Recently, though, I’ve been crying sad tears. It seems like every month I get a message or phone call from another friend whose marriage is in significant crisis. For the first time in my life I have a special prayer list just for couples. The list has grown to twelve names. The issues they battle are varied and complex: infidelity, loss of faith, mental health difficulties, conflict resulting from unanticipated change, stagnation, and things they can’t yet articulate. My friends are hurting and angry and afraid, and I hate that there is nothing I can do to fix it. All my prayers seem to turn out the same – God, I don’t know what they need, as individuals and as a couple, but you do. Provide what they need! Do it now.

As I’ve prayed, as my ear has grown hot against my cell phone – as I’ve pondered this creation we call marriage which seems as fine and fragile as bone china – I’ve felt moved to write a manifesto of sorts. So, if you are one of the friends I’m talking about, this part is for you.

As someone who loves you and who believes that marriage is a sacred thing, I make a public declaration and a commitment to you as you walk this valley of shadows. I do this because on the day you said, “I do,” I didn’t just show up for the wine and cake. When you said, “I’m all in,” in front of God and all of those witnesses, in my heart I said the same.

I wish I had a magic wand to erase the painful events, the misunderstandings, the words that can’t be taken back, the erupting diseases that brought you to this place, but we both know that magic wands are fairy-tale fluff. So I promise that I won’t try to diminish the giant monsters you are battling by giving you manufactured pearls of wisdom. If you’re looking for advice and I don’t know what to say, I’ll just say so. I may not have many – or any – answers, but I promise to listen long and well to your concerns.

I will doggedly remind you that you are not alone. Yes, you’ve discovered that a disintegrating marriage is one of the loneliest existences on earth, but you are not alone. Think of your wedding album, about the crowd in all those pictures. Many people love you and would consider it an honor to encircle you with support in this crisis, just as they did at your wedding. It takes courage to admit we don’t have it all together and deep faith to confess when things are falling apart. I will continue to encourage you to be faithful and courageous, which means regular reminders to care for yourself, to gather the support that you need, and to seek professional help. I will gently remind you that there is no shame in seeing a counselor; in fact, it’s a positive choice, a great, long-term investment in your personal and relational health and healing.

I promise to be a safe place for you to experience or express any emotion. You can use all kinds of colorful and “unacceptable” language and not worry that I won’t make eye contact tomorrow. You can yell or be silent. We can go kick-boxing or open the mega-pack of tissues from Costco.

And while everything is safe with me, I promise I won’t let you get away with unjust or dishonest speech about your spouse. Afterall, I hope (and deep down, under all these thorns, I believe you hope) that you will discover a way to healing and stay married until death parts you. Really loving you means that I have to be honest with you. I can’t only try to make you feel good if it leads to avoidance or denial; that isn’t the path to healing. So as difficult and risky as it might be, I will be honest with you about what I see, but I’ll do my best to infuse my honesty with compassion so it won’t sting too badly.

I promise to keep your confidence, but if I fail in this, I will confess and ask your forgiveness. And when I’m in company and free to speak, I will speak of both you and your spouse with respect.

I will pray without ceasing until these clouds pass.

And if the day comes when your marriage ends, I will never treat you like a failure.

These are my solemn vows. Hold me accountable to them. If I’ve hurt you, please tell me. If you need something more or something less from me, don’t hesitate to speak up. I may not be able to give you what you need, but I promise to be here, to listen, to remind you of God’s love and forgiveness, to be your friend in sickness and in health, in grief and gladness.

May gladness be your epilogue.

Lily of the Valley symbolizes a return to happiness.

Lily of the Valley symbolizes a return to happiness.

Home

Where are you from? Where’s home? Everyone answers these questions at some point, but some of us answer more succinctly than others. The older I get and the more I move around the country, the more trouble I have telling people where I’m from.

If home was just about place, about where we are born and grow up, I could simply say that I’m from Columbus, Ohio. I grew up in a sprawling, suburban neighborhood where most of the streets are quaintly named after local trees and terrain – Circle on the Green, Oakbourne Court, Beechlake Drive. I lived on Hickory Ridge Lane. As a child, when I gave directions to our home, I always said the same thing: it’s the third house on the right, a white, two-story colonial with black shutters and a red door. I had no idea what “colonial” meant, but my parents always used that word, so I did too. Over the 18 years that I lived on Hickory Ridge, a few extra descriptors popped up – a basketball hoop, a wide-planked, white fence that ran along the path to the front door, and the red Mercury Tracer my brothers parked in the driveway after school hours. Our home was easy to find.

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This is a recent picture of the Hickory house from the internet. The landscaping has changed a bit since I left for college in the 90’s. The bushes flanking the front door are different. The fence and basketball hoop are gone and so is the beautiful red maple that stood in the center of the front yard. The maple wasn’t planted deeply enough, so the roots that knotted and spread just below the grass caused many twisted ankles and made mowing the lawn into straight lines nearly impossible. For all its shade in the summer and the kaleidoscope of its leaves in the fall, the new owners were wise to remove that tree. So things have changed a bit at the Hickory house, but overall the picture is so similar to the one imprinted in my mind, that when I saw it I flushed with happy memories.

I have such nostalgia for my childhood home. I associate so many wonderful memories with that house and the life our family of five had there. To my great dismay, my parents sold the Hickory house during my freshman year of college and built a new home several towns over. Since they moved while I was away in California, I didn’t help pack or get to say goodbye to the life I had there. Maybe I was overly sentimental at 19, but I was really sad. I grieved the loss of that house like some people grieve the loss of a beloved pet. I realized that I’d never get to go home for the holidays and reminisce with my brothers when we saw our height measurements etched into the basement door. I’d never again have to wear thick socks on winter nights to protect my feet from those crazy cold hardwood floors. I’d never again earn five dollars a bucket or stain my hands black as I chucked rotting walnuts out of our backyard into the farmer’s field. I’d never again be woken by the chattering of the raccoon family that lived atop the chimney outside my bedroom window. My life on Hickory Ridge Lane was suddenly closed like the cardboard boxes my parents packed and sealed. Nevertheless, it would remain the home of my heart for many years.

For all the stability of place I’d know the first 18 years of my life, I’ve since learned that home is an adaptable concept. I’ve now lived in 5 more states and in Canada. While the idea of moving this much is foreign to baby boomers, those of us from Gen X and Gen Y see it as the way things are. Few of us expect to work 10 years for the same company in the same location, let alone 30+. If I can be my own judge, I think it’s fair to say that I’m rockin’ the modern-American-nomad thing. Some people have heard my story or looked at my resume and wondered if I’m flighty, lack commitment, or if I’m a lost soul. None of those are true. I do have an adventurous spirit. I love to explore, learn new cultures and meet new people. And I follow where God leads me. Sure, I’ve lived a lot of places, but that doesn’t mean I’m a hippie, aimless or running from something. When I land some place new, I dig in. My top priority – more important than finding the best grocery store, a reliable mechanic, or my new doctor’s office – is to cultivate relationships.

I’ve discovered in adulthood that I can’t call a place home until I there’s someone I can call and invite to a movie, someone to share rich conversation over good coffee, people who I can call friends. As I’ve moved around, I’ve learned that home is not bound by a sense of place or limited to a physical structure. It’s just too big a thing to be bound by earth, drywall and shingles. Home, for me, is a spiritual thing. It’s about planting yourself deeply in a community of souls. It’s about knowing and loving yourself and standing confident in that, but then deeply intertwining your soul with others’ and growing together.

Now when I think of home, I think of visiting my friend Karen during frigid Boston winters and laughing at ourselves as we ran out at night for pints of ice cream. I think of sharing a sunny park bench with Stephanie as we watched her daughters play. More sister than friend, Stephanie and I talked all day for four days when I visited this May. After I left, her oldest, Seraphina, observed this about her usually introverted mother, “You and Auntie Coco sure do like to talk a lot.” Home is the warm feeling that spreads from my chest to my fingertips when I snuggle with a new baby nephew or niece. It’s the joy I felt officiating Emily and Matthew’s wedding and standing up as the maid of honor for Holly and Dave. Home is realizing how much I am loved as cards and kind words piled up after my recent ordination. It’s the few days every year when I get together with my college roommates Elizabeth, Monica and Brooke. We laugh (or giggle in Liz’s case), eat really good pub food, and share totally real conversation about what’s happing in our lives and souls.

For this nomad, home is a spiritual thing. It’s about knowing and being known, loving and being loved. It’s got everything to do with my ability to see and acknowledge God’s presence in my life and very little to do with where I live. It’s more about gardening than using a GPS.

This is exactly why I feel settled and at home no matter where I live. It’s why I feel no fear, only excitement, knowing that I will be moving from Hawaii to California and starting all over again in January. But it’s also why I have such a hard time answering questions like, “Where are you from?” No one expects me to wax poetic about things like trees and friendship and God, but that is the best, most real answer I have. Don’t worry though. I usually have mercy on unsuspecting victims and simply say, “Columbus, Ohio.”

And then, maybe, I add a few sentences about life on Hickory Ridge Lane.