Sunday, August 6, 2017

my groups

It was one of those cool summer, early mornings at Bent Creek.  As I walked I could hear birds chirping and the rustle of the wind in the trees.  I soaked up the peace and quiet.  And I wasn't the only one.  Children's voice came echoing from the beach area, playing catch and swimming.  Bikers passed me regularly. As did runners.  They would call out a cheerful "on the right!" and say good morning.

I like these friendly fit people.  They inspire me and I want to be a part of their group.  It would be so easy to miss out, staying curled up in a cozy bed.  But today I got to march with the trail people.

I feel the same way about my book club.  I have had some wonderful evenings, sitting at a table discussing so much more then the book of the month.  I love the delicious healthy dinners we have together.  And the rich, authentic discussion of people willing to open their lives up.  I like these big-hearted real women.  They inspire me and I'm glad to be a part of their group.

My church is one of my favorite groups. It's not just the interesting sermons or worshipful praise music.  It's looking around at the variety of people who have decided to meet together each weekend. People who come expectant for direction and community.  People who contribute to my church in so many ways.  I like these hungry submitted people.  They inspire me and I am grateful be a part of their group.

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.Proverbs 27:17

Sunday, June 4, 2017


"O Lord, our heavenly Father, Almighty and everlasting God…We ask the witness of Thy grace, upon this sacred spot, this bit of humble earth.  For here once walked the men of dreams, the sons of hope and pain and wonder."

We got to hear those words at the beginning of The Lost Colony play.  After summers at the Outer Banks we finally got tickets and watched this amazing slice of history come alive.  "And every show opens with one man in the spotlight saying the words above.  
The Lost Colony came to life on Roanoke Island over 75 years ago.  It is now first class of all outdoor dramas.  Presidents have seen it.  Acting legends have performed in it.  And the finest hands in costume design have dressed it up."  In this quote from Our State magazine shares more about this spot in history.

On August 18, 1587 Virginia Dare became the first Enlish child born in the United States.

On August 18, 1937 President Franklin Roosevelt attended the show during the inaugural season.

Every August 18 now, The Lost Colony casts a read infant to play the Virginia Dare role.

It is a reminder of what our forbearers survived to give us the world we have now.

Our State magazine reminds us that "Life on the island – isolated and prone to storms- always has been tough.  Roanoke Island didn’t even have a bridge connecting it to the mainland until 1931, which was 344 years after the colonists first landed here."

Our family spends a week on Roanoke Island every year in June for vacation.  The drive is beautiful, the bridge over the expansive sound brings us quickly to the island.  Our rental house is cozy and comfortable, launching us to the beach.

"The sunsets on the sound were beautiful then, and they’re beautiful now."  They are, pulling us out of bed in the early hours to be amazed again. We suffer none of the hardships that the Lost Colony faced - no hunger, no disconnection with loved ones, no survival stresses.  But their heart filled prayer rings true today as we come to rest and heal.

"O Lord, our heavenly Father, Almighty and everlasting God…We ask the witness of Thy grace, upon this sacred spot, this bit of humble earth.  We walk here in the footsteps of so many who called out to you.  We too have dreams, the children of hope and pain and wonder."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

pink plastic spoons

My fantasy job involves ice cream.   I think about how fun it would be to work at TCBY.  Handing out samples of new flavors, adding toppings, watching the simple joy that a refreshing dessert brings.

I thought about that today.  It was a day of repairs.  Taking out the trash, weeding the yard and an hour in the dentist chair filling a cavity.  Too much dreaming about ice cream!

Phillip Yancy in his book Vanishing Grace  takes my day of repairs and my day dreams and gives them a spiritual direction.

"By living out lives of grace in a spoiled environment, we point forward to a time of restoration.  One Harlem preacher likens us to the pink plastic spoons at Baskin Robbins: we give the world a foretaste of what lies ahead, the vision of the biblical prophets.  In a world gone astray we should be actively demonstrating here and now God's will for the planet."

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

a year off

When I started chaplain school, in the summer of 2009, every thing was radically different.  I was totally immersed in a hard core medical environment 5-7 days a week.  I was learning new skills and a new charting system.  I had experiences I had never dreamed of.  And I was in all of this with three other interns.  Cathee, Vicki and Nathan.  Sink or swim, do or die -We became friends pretty fast.

Each of us had an adjoining desk facing the wall in our little office.  But when we got back from the emergency department or surgery or visits we would wheel our chairs around to face each other.  We were eager to share the horrendous, exciting, triumphant or soul crushing experience we had just been a part of.

Nathan and Vicki were already bloggers.  They got me set up and we wrote our encounters down,  capturing, processing, learning and memorializing the amazing times we'd been a part of.  We would read each other's blogs day.  We'd laugh and cry hearing the stories again and rush to comment encouragement and appreciation on the blogs.

We had time to blog.  We had support.  We had the material.  It just poured out of us onto the pages. Close to 200 posts for me that first year.  Stories I am so glad I have to look back at and remind me of that time.

At the end of our chaplain residency we scattered.  I became a hospice chaplain in North Carolina.  Nathan became a bereavement counselor in Alaska.  Vicki became a priest in Arizona.  Cathee worked in South Carolina.  No more wheeling the chairs around to share our moments.  We still had great stories, but less time to commit them to blogs.

And then I became an elementary school principal.  So many great stories!  But I was writing lesson plans, chaplain notes, the school news letter and website. Any ounce of creativity was put into school.  And suddenly it's been a blogless year.

Today I am looking through old posts and realizing how much I miss the processing and story telling of writing.  And even more I miss the spinning of my chair to hear my fellow interns' experiences.  So I will check in when I can and enjoy my memories where ever they are stored.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

tyranny of the urgent

I was driving to to meet my friend Barb for dinner at Green Sage.  And I had an epiphany.

This isn't a huge surprise.  Barb is one of those forever friends that combines intuitive listening skills with counselor level questions.  When Steve and I moved to Asheville  23 years ago, Barb and Vito were the first couple to invite us out.  I spent way too much time overthinking an uncomfortable, fussy outfit only to find Barb in jeans and a sweatshirt, looking perfect.  

Barb introduced me to Asheville's fine arts theatre,  where we would escape from real life to watch movies with subtitles and explore stories from around the world.  Barb was there when both my babies were born, encouraging and photographing.  During the hardest year of my life, Barb and Barbara Thomas met me regularly at The Chocolate Lounge for liquid truffles and group therapy.

And every time we have gotten together in those twenty-three years, Barb has asked me how I am.  I always seem to have the same answer.  "I'm good.  Just too busy.  Things will settle down when..."  and the current busyness is labeled.  -When I get done with this sermon series.  When the baby is sleeping through the night.  When the boys are in school.  When I finish my residency in Spartanburg and can be home.  When my Christmas shopping is all done.  When my patient load drops.  When I finish these classes.  When we get into the school year.  When. When.  When...

Twenty-three years of "If I can just get over THIS hump, then things will be good."

And here I am in the middle of another, extended crazy busy season.  The summer I had envisioned as my oasis, turned out to be hectic.  And I knew things would slow down once school started.  But it's been months of long days, of always being one step behind, of regretting saying yes to so many things, of isolating myself for survival, of juggling and rushing and hopping from one crisis to another.

Years ago I heard Jim Collins talk about the tyranny of the urgent. When we let urgent things crowd out every thing else.  When our lives are ruled by the loudest squeaks, the most recent phone call, the class I'm teaching in 5 minutes, the next doctor's appointment for my son.  Sometimes the tyranny can't be helped.  There will be busy seasons.  But when the busy seasons last for 30 years I have to be curious.  What is in me that can't say "no" to an opportunity for making money or furthering my education?  What is in me that feels important only when I am busy and in demand?  Am I insulating myself from calm and space for a subconscious reason?  And how will I answer any of these questions if I never have time to think about them?

So I met Barb at Green Sage.  We hugged and ordered and caught up.  She asked me how I was.  And I answered as honestly as I could.  "I'm busy.  Of course.  I have a problem with always being busy.  But I'm sure you knew that about 15 years before I had an epiphany about it on the way here.  And I don't know how to get off the treadmill.  That is how I am."

Our waiter stopped by with my coconut mocha and Barb's ginger carrot juice.  That bright orange juice could restart your heart.  So can a comforting friend. 

We are going to meet again soon!  After my board meeting. And the wedding I'm doing.  And Thanksgiving......

Sunday, September 27, 2015


 So I am walking through the school halls at noon.  The sun is streaming in on the scrubbed floors.  The students are all in the lunch room and there is a happy buzz coming from that direction.  As I round the corner to the main hall,  I see a 6th grade student round the corner running at top speed in my direction.  All lean and graceful.  And then he screeches to a halt.  I look behind me to see what made him stop.  Then realize it was me.  That kids aren't supposed to run in the halls.  And I am the enforcer of that.  I see fear in his eyes and don't like that that is his reaction to me. I greet him by name and walk past him.  Today.

I had no idea how much I would be disciplining in this job.
I will get called to speak to a whole class, or a group of girls, or two guys tussling on the field, or a row of wiggling 1st graders after assembly.  Speeches, concerns, expectations, raised eyebrows.  This is so not me.  I don't like being strict, or serious, or intimidating.  I don't like that when asked to speak to a student their first response is to check their skirt length or ask "what did I do wrong?" I don't like this part of principaling.

I had no idea how much I would be disciplining in this job.  
And yet I do it, day after day.  I try to make it reasonable and redemptive, building and not shaming.  But it is still hard and uncomfortable and sometimes tear inducing.  And afterwards I often flop in my principal chair and say to myself "How on earth is this your job Erin?"

I said this out loud one day to my mom and she reframed it for me.  She said "Wouldn't you rather it be you?  It could be someone angry and quick to judgement.  You love these kids and you are as gentle as you can be with them."  And that helped.  Now I try to say to myself "Erin, I'm so glad you get to meet with them right now and not some mean person with an eye for hell fire and retribution." 

It takes a lot of talking to myself to get through a day.

The dictionary defines discipline this way:  Training expected to produce a specific character or   pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement:

We are all "in training" aren't we?  I hope for all of us the truth of this Simone Weil quote becomes indelibly clear.

 "Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring; Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating."

I also hope you don't run in the halls.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

time and again

"We meet ourselves time and again in a thousand disguises on the paths of life."  Carl Jung

This summer started out with a bang. - A hectic ending to my first school year as principal. Right into a week of campmeeting where I worked in Kindergarten, leading a tribe of 15 little kids.  Straight to the beach for blissful sun and rest.  And then back to school to pick up the unfinished pieces.  Getting Jake packed for his summer recruiting gig, appointments and meetings and on and on.

By the 4th of July I was in a full tizzy.  We were invited to a friend's farm to watch a huge firework show.  But Jake was gone.  Josh's birthday was on Sunday.  And on that birthday Sunday, I had to leave for a college in TN for two weeks to take a required class for my job.  I hate leaving my family.  My bursts of panic mimicked the exploding fireworks.

On Sunday evening I loaded my car with school books, a suitcase, blankets and towels, dvd's and an ice chest and hit the road.

Three hours later I pulled up at the university.  I had only been there twice in the twenty-five years since I was there to finish my junior and senior years of college.  I moved into a room on the bottom floor of the dorm Steve had lived in those two years, facing my old dorm.

And it was deja vu all over again.  1989-91.  Wondering if I would get a job after I graduated.  Where would I live? Would Steve and I stay together this time?  Would we get married? Would I pass my classes?  Would I make new friends?  I had to stretch my legs after the drive, so I tried to outrun my past worries by looping the campus and track, passed the religion building where I'd had most of my classes, past the church where I went to vespers as Steve's date, passed the girls dorm where I'd had roommate dramas.  And finally back to my little room - home for the next two weeks.

And then I started to relax.  In that tiny, sunny room I made up my bed, hung up my clothes, set up my desk.  I realized that I was excited to be a student in a class, studying brain function and learning styles.  My only responsibility was to learn.  

For the next two weeks I would get up quietly and leave my little room tidy.  I would walk to class.  I would take notes and brainstorm with interesting classmates.  After class I would walk to the village market to the delicious salad bar, and choose yogurt and fruit for my breakfast the next morning.  I would sit indian style at my desk for hours into the evening reading books and writing reports.  I would watch a movie at night as I fell asleep.

One day I met old friends at a Mexican restaurant in town.  Another evening I drove to another old friend's home and ate popcorn, watermelon and fruit shakes while I got to know his family.  One day for lunch my friend and classmate,  Susan,  and I explored a Peruvian restaurant just for a new experience.  Those were the only three times I used a car in those two weeks.  And then back to my quiet room to study.

It was an incredibly restful, enriching time. Every time deja vu anxiety popped up I got to remind myself that it would all turn out ok.  Way better than ok.  Steve and I would stay together.  We'd move to California.  We'd have a beautiful wedding.  We'd get great jobs.  We'd move to Asheville and have two precious blond boys.  We would have a wonderful, traumatic, interesting, adventurous life.

But today I am a 46 year-old sleeping for one more night on a quiet, dorm bunk bed.   I wish I could pop in on 21 year old Erin and tell her to relax, enjoy the journey, be grateful.  In lieu of time travel,  I will just remind 46 year-old Erin that.