More Than You Seek

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(in my soul)

The current worship series at UUCA is on Sacred Objects. Last Sunday’s sacred object was tears.

When I started attending services in August I was surprised at how often tears sprang to my eyes. I’d never been a big crier, though over the years – especially after having children – I did seem to well up a bit more often. Still, I was shocked I couldn’t make it through a service without tears. I commented to my friends – “I don’t know when I became a crier, but I do wonder when it will stop surprising me”

“I’ve got tears like the raindrops
I’ve got tears like the raindrops
I’ve got tears like the raindrops in my soul”

I sang the first verse of the hymn sweetly.

Intern minister Taryn Strauss read a piece she had written about crying in church. Quoting a UU minister friend of hers, she referred to tears as “spiritual sweat” and talked about the release that crying in church can bring.

“We cry at church because we are traumatized, because life breaks us down, because underneath our carefully crafted persona there is a firestorm, a whirling hurricane of anxiety, woundedness, unfulfilled need, fear, heartbreak, or unexpressed joy.”

This image, from Shel Silverstein’s poem “Hinges” popped immediately into my head.

Image result for shel silverstein hinges

I felt like she had peered into my brain and looked inside.

A firestorm.
A whirling hurricane of anxiety.

“I’ve got pain like an arrow
I’ve got pain like an arrow
I’ve got pain like an arrow in my soul”

This verse came belting out.

I don’t even know what a soul is, really, but it seems to me that pain must leave an indelible mark on it. Even when the pain is gone, or at least dulled after the passage of decades, there’s a memory of it that remains. I’ve been through a lot of painful shit in my life. I don’t feel like I carry that around with me, (there’s plenty of baggage I have carried with me but that usually falls more into the shame/embarrassment category), but I *felt* that verse. I felt the memory of that pain. It’s in there.

“I’ve got peace like a river
I’ve got peace like a river
I’ve got peace like a river in my soul”

Back to my sweet soprano.

This verse made me think of another line from Taryn’s piece.

“When most of your week is spent underground, or in a tiny, windowless office, or claustrophobic apartment, encountering bright, open space can instantaneously provoke deep emotion.  Just the chance to stretch out, and feel small can bring a relief you didn’t realize you craved.”

She was referring to the sanctuary of All Souls UU in NYC. But for me it spoke of the feeling I get while hiking. Just the chance to stretch out, and feel small. Hiking makes me feel insignificant. In a good way. When my problems seem big, I go somewhere that makes me feel small. That’s outdoors. That’s nature. The earth is SO big. Just the little part of it that I have access to is so big. Trees that tower over me, creeks that rush with a current strong enough to sweep me away, or on a gentler day, whisper a quiet song still powerful enough to shape stone.

I’m no longer surprised when I cry at services. I just wonder why I never remember tissues. I teared up a few times during the service on tears, but it was this song when I lost it.

How could anyone ever tell you
you were anything less than beautiful?
How could anyone ever tell you
you were less than whole?
How could anyone fail to notice
that your loving is a miracle?
How deeply you’re connected to my soul

The words blurred in front of my eyes and my voice choked on a sob. I felt like I was singing to myself. Can you be disconnected from your own soul? Can negative self-talk and toxic thoughts actually *disconnect* you from yourself? I think they can. And I feel like I am finally reconnecting with it on this crazy journey of self-discovery. Self Love. It’s everywhere. It’s in Yoga With Adriene and it’s in Brené Brown’s books and in the phrase we repeat quietly to ourselves in the meditation.

I will love myself, I will love others, and that love will heal the world. 

“Most people cannot say why they cry at church, just that it triggers their tears as a response, and they need to do it.  They are not repelled by their tears, they still look forward to church each Sunday.  They look forward to their soul’s workout.  Because after a good spiritual sweat, you return to yourself a little raw, a little more vulnerable, and like after any exercise routine, a little bit stronger after a good, albeit slightly muffled, church cry.”

Thanks Taryn, for the giving me words for my soul’s workout. I’ll be there Sunday. With tissues 😉


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more than you seek, indeed (pt.2)

Part 2: UUCA

“Welcome to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta, a beloved community that changes lives.”

I started Part 2 on the heels of Part 1. Three months ago. I have come back to the draft several times, tweaked this or added that and it just hasn’t come together. I feel like every week I learn more about UUCA, more about myself, fall more in love with the community and now I can’t unravel that to go back and write the post this was supposed to be in my head. So I’m starting over.

In part 1 I talked about how I came to be in the UUCA Phoenix choir, and the choir is how I came to UUCA. I had some idea of what UU was, or more importantly, what it wasn’t – a Christian church. Though some in UU identify as Christians or people of other faiths, UU congregations “affirm and promote seven Principles, which we hold as strong values and moral guides” which “are not dogma or doctrine, but rather a guide for those of us who choose to join and participate”.

I’m not an athiest, though I also don’t believe in any god(s). I don’t pretend to know the truth as to whether there is a greater being in the Universe. There probably is. I don’t know. The Universe is bigger than my mind can even comprehend and I am such a tiny speck in it. But I don’t believe in any Earthly religions for sure.

Still, though I know on some level that UU wasn’t a Christian church I didn’t have any idea what it was, or what the point was, then.

When I was first talking to Don about auditioning for the choir I said to him “I’m not a spiritual person”. It wasn’t an intentional lie but it also was not at all what I meant. I meant I wasn’t a religious person. (My friend Blair pointed that out right away.) Still, what I meant was, “sure, I will come sit through this thing every other Sunday, but all I really want is to sing”.

Now, a few short months later, it is hard to tell the story from the point of view of August me. I could do all the gushing – the music! the people! the message! – and none of it would do justice to how full of love it makes me feel. I go to services every Sunday, regardless of if I am singing or not. I frequently attend the Wonderful Wednesday dinners.

Everyone has been so welcoming of me and our whole family. When I reached out to ask if the childcare program could accommodate our special children, I got personal meetings with the childcare director and the head of the inclusion ministry. Strangers to me listened to my story and said not only that the childcare would welcome our kids, but also – “how ELSE can we help?” I have come to see that the congregation doesn’t just give lip service to being accessible to everyone. They really mean it (and also, that there are challenges to this that are addressed as a part of a greater dedication to social justice, and all the hard work that takes and mistakes that will inevitably be made along the way).

I don’t know if I would have felt as confident jumping into the congregation if I wasn’t a part of the choir. It gave me an answer to “where did you come from?”

I was remarkably restrained (it’s okay to laugh) and waited an entire month before jumping into a couple of volunteer roles – one, taking attendance at rehearsals, which was scary and involved learning lots of people’s names lol – and the other, helping out in the choir library, which probably fulfills me in just as many ways as the choir itself does. Not only did I work in the choir library in high school, it led to my work as an admin, the amazing therapy of making neat piles and filing them, AND the choir librarian is a midwife I have known for a decade. Funny how life works 🙂

So. I guess that is Part 2. It’s not everything it could be. I’m a good writer but I feel… choked… somehow when I try to write about the details. If you want to hear about them I would love to get together for coffee or a drink and do all the gushing (level of gushing to be determined by which drink you choose lol). If you want to come to a service some Sunday, to hear me sing or just to see what it is all about I would love to sit with you. If you are like “hey, I thought this was a blog about hiking”, I have other hiking things to write about, but I can’t promise they won’t tie into this. For the oneness of everything.



more than you seek, indeed

Part one: Choir


For a New Beginning

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

John O’Donohue

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hearts and bones

It’s been over a year since I’ve published anything here. I’ve started several posts during the year that are sitting as drafts (one of which I can’t for the life of me remember what I was going to write about!) and still have some drafts of hikes and river trips from 18 months ago. This post never even got to the draft stage. I took the pictures, I wrote it in my head, and there it stayed. The spring came and it was no longer timely. But as always, the seasons change, the cycle completes, and once again we pull out the winter coats, hats, and gloves.

I used to hate winter. Especially when I lived in Michigan – the short, dark days. The oppressive cloudy sky. The bitterly cold wind. Even after I moved south and winter became much more tolerable, it was still my least favorite season. I saw the leaves fall and thought how empty and sad the trees were. I eagerly anticipated the first buds of spring to cover up the skeletal branches.

When I first started hiking it was winter. I didn’t pay much attention to the trees. It was the rivers and streams and rocks and caves that captured my heart, that brought me out again and again to explore the land around me that I’d never given much thought to. But as the year went on and I hiked through spring, summer, and fall, to winter back again, when the leaves fell I saw something different.

I saw the trees.

Of course the leaves are pretty in the spring, exploding with green, new life. They provide shade in the hot summer months. As they prepare to fall, they turn brilliant, deep shades of gold, yellow and red. But it is only when the trees are laid bare that you can SEE the tree. See its bones. Is it big and round and stout, or tall and lanky? Does it have a scar, or a weird, funky branch?

I see them stand proudly in their nakedness, catching the sun and saying “Here I am. This is me.”

The trees have always been there. Their bare branches are the same as they have been. It’s me that changed. Opened my eyes to seeing something in a whole new way, and finding beauty where before there was only sadness and ugliness.

Being around trees makes people feel better. Not just me. Everyone! A growing amount of research shows that forests make us healthier:

Most of us sense that taking a walk in a forest is good for us. We take a break from the rush of our daily lives. We enjoy the beauty and peace of being in a natural setting. Now, research is showing that visiting a forest has real, quantifiable health benefits, both mental and physical.

All I had to do to see the trees differently was go spend time with them. And that doesn’t just work with trees. With all that is going on in our country right now, we need to seek out deeper connection with people. The internet provides so many ways to connect with friends and family from afar, but also a way for people to isolate themselves from real life interaction. From smiles, and hugs, and tears. From strengths and flaws and conversations in which we can shed our own leaves, lay ourselves bare, and say “Here I am. This is me.”



well, crap

I’m still not caught up on blog posts from the end of August through January. I was in a groove for a while where I was banging out posts, and then… who knows. Life happens, right? I made the site public in December planning to get caught up quickly and that hasn’t happened either. So, I am going to start skipping around and write the posts I want to write first. Some escapades are more exciting than others – not that the less exciting ones don’t have a place here either. They can’t all be adrenaline-filled (and honestly I prefer they not be!). All that to say, here’s an out-of-order post about a day I made a series of bad decisions. Enjoy. Continue reading

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it takes two

My friend Katie and I went out Friday night to take the SUPs for a spin at Garrard Landing. I chose that park because they have a boat launch (kind of a necessity), it is close to her house, and because I remembered the section of river below there to be pretty calm, with no major shoals and thought we could easily float downstream a bit and then paddle back up. Continue reading