Advent is the irrational season….

according to Madeline L’Engle. It is no surprise then that I have been brought to tears not one, not two, but five times since the first Sunday in Advent only four days ago. This time of year always gets to me and that is not bad. It just stirs up so much feeling and so many visceral memories. Some of the most deeply contented times of my childhood were during the holidays. Fun seemed so effortless when I was so young, like an absolute give in. (I do realize that this is not the case for every child–those whose families had to be kicked out of the DC shelter recently as a stark example).

But me, I was gifted with an extraordinarily charmed and magical childhood.


I must admit, though my loving family remains the same, that with adulthood comes more difficulty in attaining that fun and that joy. I was thinking the other day in the car that adulthood feels like a lot more effort and a lot more manufactured fun (i.e. expensive cocktails, even more expensive sporting events, themed parties and carefully planned vacations), The fun is there. It can be there. But is there something that is impossible to get back? I feel like I cannot reach back to that innocence (sheltered?) where everything filled me with hope for the world and excitement about the future. If anyone should be able to get there, it should be me right? An ordained clergyperson?? It is my aim to model hope in the face of a cynical and oppressive world. Yet, on my own personal journey as a human being and a young adult, I am finding that hope has to be exercised like a muscle. It is not any longer a given. It does not come free. In fact now, it is hard won and a triumph when it does come. One thing that remains true about me is that it is in this season where I feel it is the most accessible and most possible: by ‘it’ I mean hope!

I told my church on Sunday that my favorite line in any Christmas carol ever sung is simply this:




too old for this $***

Jason and I went to an awesome show this past Saturday—the first in a while because we have been watching our pennies. The headliner was De La Soul, a hip hop group formed in 1989 (celebrating 25 years together) who represented a more positive and socially conscious brand of hip hop than the raucous gangsta rap that followed on its heels. In other words, they did not sing about chicks and cars and weed and enemies, but instead focused on bringing people together. 


I respected them and knew a few songs, but Jason was the real fan. I just soaked in the atmosphere. We danced with a very diverse crowd (all races, many ages but pushing towards 40 on average). People cheered and lost themselves in the joy of it all. I loved it because I love seeing people perform live who genuinely love what they do; who are not too cool to jump around with a doofy grin on their face because it makes them feel alive to use their talent. They made us feel good.

And what was funny was that, of course, since it has been 25 years, they look a lot different from the picture on their first album. They have gone bald, gotten bellies and got out of breath jumping around the way they used to. They made fun of themselves saying “we are too old for this $***, but they did it anyway. I liked that and I was inspired by that. Are we too old for anything? Are we too mature to dance around when we are excited? I always miss that part of me that broke out so easily when I was a teenager. I would run and jump and dance and make a fool of myself at the drop of a hat back then. 

And yet I want to mature in my life too. I want to be responsible enough and giving enough to have a child. I want to be able to imagine myself doing normal “adult” things like buy a house one day or maybe even open a business (retreat house). That takes some putting away of childish things. But does that mean putting it all away for good?

Can I work on growing up and still be like a child? Jesus did tell us to be like children. To be like them. But we are not children anymore. So how do we do that? Thoughts?


I received a challenge. I attended a local meeting last week of fellow Chaplains and Pastors for the first time. The group was welcoming. The leader was a Rabbi who is also an Emergency Room Chaplain and has been for years. He had a lot of wisdom to offer us. At the end he pulled me aside. He had heard some of my story, and by this time knew some of my aforementioned struggles and he challenged me. He asked

Do you know what “equanimity” means?

I was not completely sure, and the way he explained it, it means a sense of self that remains constant and steady in the face of praise or in the face of insult. Neither one is powerful enough to sway one’s confidence and peace of mind.


“You always own the option of having no opinion. There is never any need to get worked up or to trouble your soul about things you can’t control. These things are not asking to be judged by you. Leave them alone.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

That word has been floating around with me since then. It has been following me around. It reminds me of The Four Agreements, which I learned from my soul friend Kim who also used them as the message when she officiated my wedding. The agreements are 1) Be impeccable in your speech 2) Don’t assume 3) Don’t take it personally and 4) Always do your best, whatever that may be today.

I would like to believe that I don’t care what people think of me. I tried to stand out (from my twin sister and my peers) as early as middle school. I valued being the girl who was kind to everyone because of faith and who wore “weird thrift store clothes” because I liked them. I value even now being someone who seems filled with joy even when I am not.

How much have I shaped my identity myself and how much have I been swayed by others? Is it possible for any of us to be impervious to others’ influences? Is that even a good thing; a desirable thing? I don’t mind being affected by people. Maybe I should, but I learn through others. I am okay with letting them in because I believe that is a beautiful part of living.

However, I can see how connecting with others is different than taking their struggles and pains and viewpoints personally and letting them shake my sense of self.

images (1)
I welcome thoughts…

I have been scared to post.

I’ll admit it.
There are many aspects of life that have been very good (i.e. I love being a church pastor) and many individual days that have been even better (i.e. I love living so close to so many I love), but overall I have a feeling of flailing.
Why? Wellll….

1. Marriage is hard. It is really hard. (Don’t worry we are staying the course, keeping our vows). I do not feel free in this public forum to get into all the particulars of why it is hard for me and Jason. But when we have our bad days, it affects everything else. When I go to work after a tense, arguing night, it makes me feel lousy about the rest of the day like “who am I to guide anyone in anything deep or meaningful when I can’t even keep the deepest part of my life on good footing”? If I love someone so much and made such heartfelt promises to them, why do I struggle and why do others make it look so much easier? That is an unfair self-judgement, I know. But still.

2. I weigh over 190 pounds, by far the heaviest I have ever been. (Don’t worry I won’t end up as one of those people on a reality show). It is obese by the BMI (which I’m not sure I trust but still). It happened rapidly. I was 20 pounds lighter than this, still trying to trim up in Plattsburgh, but after a series of very challenging transitions last Spring and Fall, it just shot up in the span of only four months. And I have not been able to get back on point. So here I am. Shopping plus size. Mad at myself for living into an all-too insidious stereotype of females in ministry. I am working on it. That’s why I “wrote it out loud”. But still.
me August 2013
me by December 2013

3. I struggle with anxiety. Some days it’s annoying. Other days it is worse. (Don’t worry I have help). I see a counselor regularly whom I really like. I take two medications for it: one originally prescribed and the other mostly to keep the original one from making me gain even more weight. I want to say I never used to have this problem. But I’m not sure that’s true. I used to have so few real-life things to be anxious about and therefore my nervous energy could translate into fun, bubbly energy. I want to be an easygoing person that makes others feel at ease by my mere presence. I don’t want to be someone who struggles with this. But still.

So thus, no blogging.
However one thing I have always been is transparent about who I am. It is my hope that by putting this on the table, I might be free to muse about other things here.

Race: Me as a White Woman, (Technically) Minority Child, and Wife in a Mixed Marriage

Hello all and Happy New Year!

Inspired by MLK’s Day as well as a book I just recently ordered from Amazon, I decided to try to put words to my story with issues of race. Much training in multi-cultural systems and diversity sensitivity has reminded me that most white people like me do not have to engage with race in their lives if they choose not to, of course. But when we do, it can be eye-opening, humbling and fascinating as all get-out. 

So here goes. 

I was born in Houston, but don’t remember it. My earliest memories are here: Prince George’s County—what I later learned was the wealthiest majority-black county in the nation. 



Growing up, I had a variety of friends, but a large majority of them did not look like me. I do not recall thinking much of this. I thought ALL schools celebrated Black History Month with the same regularity and devotion each year. 


When I got to middle school, not only did my sister and I stick out like a sore thumb, but I also was a HUGE nerd.


I fit many of developing stereotypes my then-friends had of white people. I was bookish, uncoordinated, bad at sports, and had no idea how to be cool in a normal way. I sought a different social circle because of a lot of rejection and started going to a youth group at a friend’s local church (which in a different story got me involved in a faith life I had never encountered previously). Yet this youth group, in retrospect may have provided the comfort and anonymity of once again being in the majority group and not being scrutinized for little mannerisms that could give away the fact that I no longer fit in. Ironically, of course, I learned that this is how people who are actually minorities feel all the time trying to blend in at jobs, in neighborhoods and in social circles where they stick out like a sore thumb. 

When I started dating, it was preppy, school-smart white guys who played lacrosse and guitar and also went to youth groups. I still don’t know how much this was intentional. I built my confidence back up in high school where the racial diversity was about 50/50 black and white (not that diverse if we are speaking literally because it only includes two races). I had a dear friend who was black, but later realized he did not feel he fit in with many people either because of his sexual orientation. I had a good friend  who was Korean, adopted into a white family and did a lot to fit in and actually be popular including dying blonde streaks over her gorgeous black hair and making fun of others to (successfully) deflect any negative attention away from her. I have to give credit to my high school. There were no “mostpopular” people, perhaps due to the large size (700) of my graduating class and the fact that everyone fell into different groups and the popularity strata remained within those groups. I did not keep in great touch with any of my friends from my earlier years and I thank God for Facebook to now at least be able to see the occasional updates. 

I chose a faith-based college that ended up being more white than my high school. I was struck by the different experiences of fellow students, some of whom had never even had a friend who was not white! I was shocked by that. I did not realize that that was more common than I ever thought. And where my ill-informed adolescent reasoning led me to believe that the racial disparities in income, housing, poverty, etc were due to poor individual choices, I began to take classes in Sociology that turned my worldview upside down. Namely I learned that white people got a head start that we are still benefiting from today over generations of unearned wealth and privilege. This was revolutionary to me and at first I resisted this infuriating fact, thinking “well I knew PLENTY of black people where I grew up whose houses were just as big and who did just as well”. But more and more the facts prevailed. My hometown was the exception and not the rule. This country still had a lot of work to do. And me along with it. 

I moved back to Washington DC and lived in the city for a year after college, interning and living in the Columbia Heights neighborhood which many residents will know what I mean when I say “Columbia Heights BEFORE the target”, meaning the explosion of gentrification that took the neighborhood from a “bad and dangerous” one (aka majority black) to one that is the most coveted because it is within walking distance to Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle and U Street. When I lived there, I was often asked how I could live there without fear by concerned relatives and well-meaning friends. A lesson I came to learn was that people who were in the neighborhood first just want respect. Conveying fear of people who did nothing to you of course is going to make them defensive, angry and perhaps even more likely to want to intimidate you. At least that was my experience. Keeping my headphones out of my ears and making eye contact as I walked around those neighboring blocks day after day made me feel very comfortable there. 


I went to seminary and started preparing for life as a minister. I was more than a little disappointed to arrive at this prestigious seminary and see blatant self-segregation in our cafeteria. Even HERE where I thought we were so progressive and enlightened, people stuck to their own,whether intentionally or not. And that cycle was hard to break out of. The turning point for me was taking a real risk. I took a class called “Ethics and Politics in the Black Community” (not the risk, that was a great class) and going up to one of the only other women in the class (a black woman) after one session and asking her to have coffee. Thank goodness that woman had such an open heart and generous spirit because she remains one of my best friends and the officiant at my wedding. We have had more honest conversations about race than I could ever have hoped to have. She came from a similarly affluent black family to many who I grew up with and her mother would end up becoming the President of a national organization of accomplished black women. We also acted as bridges for each other to cross the “cafeteria table divide”.


During this time, I had a bad break-up and took up online dating for the first time. You may wonder what this has to do with race. Well, I had gained a good bit of weight in the years since college and with my extra curves, I could not help but notice that the main men I was getting attention from on these sites were not white men. The insecure woman in me thought about this a good bit and went with it! I liked being appreciated for my beauty without having to be a stick figure. I dated different kinds of men during this time, but I could not help but notice that going out with a couple black men got me a few unexpected comments. My ex (who is very liberal) caved to a lot of insecurity about sexual comparisons to these men that were based largely upon stereotypes. Friends said I had a “thing for black guys”. This embarrassed me because I did not see it this way—merely as being open to whoever struck my fancy. 

I met one very special guy named Jason. We romanced, dated several years, weathered a lot together and ended up getting married. So that means we are in an interracial marriage.



My kids will never be white. I think this seems like the wave of the future. I see more and more “ambiguously raced” kids every year and it makes me really happy. Maybe more and more it will so difficult to tell what people’s backgrounds are that we will begin having new conversations, telling new stories. I am encouraged by this great video of kids reacting to a “controversial” Cheerios commercial featuring a mixed race couple just this last year. 

So will the problem and ghosts of racism haunting this country ever fully be gone? I don’t think they will, at least not in my lifetime. But just as we will always remember things like the Holocaust to learn lessons of peace and equality for each new generation, so we need to keep alive the painful stories of this legacy in our country and not cease to ask the hard questions that help us be better, and not more complacent with each passing year. 


Other resources I like if you are interested:

Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack of White Privilege

Race Story Rewrite

PBS Documentary: Race the Power of an Illusion

Understanding Race website

Resources for the Classroom and Parents at Home

Today is a “snow day” down in DC—

a.k.a. a day where it snowed an inch or two until noon and now is beautiful but in which everything got cancelled and even the Federal Govt is closed. So here I sit: on my couch, with time to blog, drink wine and watch silly TV. Maybe I’ll be good and go to the gym in a bit. But for now I feel utterly blessed with relaxation. 

As we plow (pun very much intended) through this Advent season, I am struck by how different it feels being a pastor in a church as opposed to a chaplain in a hospital. Last year around this time, I remember feeling so burnt out on the death and illness every day that I sat curled up in my car crying outside my apartment building as the snow fell (much heavier than here I might add since we were living in almost-Canada). This year I feel much more joyfully engaged in this season of hope, joy, faith and love. I hear bad news every day about war in the world, typhoons, backbiting politicians and the like and all I can think is that our peace is still on the way. 

NOTE: I do not say this to disparage my former job or living situation. There are things I do miss about Plattsburgh, mainly the people. I especially miss my best girlfriends who made the ten hour each way trek to come see me get married and let me into their lives as a newcomer and a stranger to a place where everyone knew everyone since forever.

Some of those people I hope to visit soon, and others I will never see again in this lifetime. I have this morbid habit of routinely checking the obits from my former local paper and I have seen many former patients who have died. One such patient was a man by the name of Hubert. He was a huge man, a big and deep voiced teddy bear of a man who would grab my hand in his huge hand/paw every time I visited, with tears in his eyes, and thank me for simple prayers and shared laughs. He and his wife did not have a lot of money and yet still gave Jason and I money as a wedding gift, insisting that we take it and that I was like one of their children. Perhaps those boundaries got blurred, but I don’t care. I was so lucky to know him and his family. Not being there when he was dying is a major regret I have. And yet I feel happy for him too. 

I carry with me this image of death now that, ironically, struck me when I was running on the treadmill, sweaty and panting and painfully trying to push myself just a little farther than last time. I was listening to “Fade Like a Shadow” by K.T. Tunstall and I started imagining all those I’ve lost (people I’ve known like my Grandpa Doerrer and people I never met like Mother Teresa) running with joy—not out of breath, not running away from something, but just running like the wind. I thought of my Grandma–still alive and kicking at 86, who always boasted that she was the fastest runner in her neighborhood despite her short stature, faster even than the boys. I love thinking about that. I love thinking about her running alongside her long-gone husband, my Granddad Goldbeck and jumping into his arms or into a wild spin. I love thinking about Hubert, finally freed of his physical ailments and obesity and able to run like the wind. 

So that is a thought of hope. I feel that I have a lot of reasons to hope.

And yet I find myself often shutting out the world. I hide in these things that relax me and use them to numb myself to this restless anxiety and fear of I-don’t-know-what in me. But Advent and Christmas calms that fear just a little bit. I feel this season sweep me into its arms like a baby and curl me into its chest and rub my back to soothe me, reminding me that I am cared for and that I am not the one in control of all this beauty. Thank God.


Our wandering way

It has been a while (as always).

This transition back down to my home city of DC with Jason has been as bumpy as expected but I have also been surprised by my own joy and fulfillment in my two new jobs. These new roles of Chaplain-in-Residence and Interim Pastor are so incredibly relational that I can’t believe I actually get paid for this work! And I must admit I find myself relieved to be out of the hospital setting for a little while—I was burnt out not so much on the death and dying stuff but on the constant influx of new people and the lack of depth in many of my day to day pastoral relationships. This stage really has a “meant to be” feeling about it.
Except of course for Jason—that’s a very important exception. He has been patiently moving forward with a largely unstructured life as he applies to jobs and considers what to do next with his life or even with his day to day plans. He has taken the time to fall in love with this unique city, but much like any of us, he needs challenge and routine and fulfillment. I long for that for him more than anything else right now and I keep breaking apart and then reaffirming my trust that this is all headed somewhere.


Not all who wander are lost! I am even co-facilitating a program on that for the students here next month—on redefining success and making peace with our winding roads. I am as happy as I’ve ever been here but the big question especially when you have committed your life to someone else is:

Can you ever truly be content if your partner is not? Can you pursue your own dreams and friends and life and NOT worry about theirs? When you are so intertwined I am not sure. Here’s where I think Jason and I are learning what marriage is as we live it.

I am hungry for the wisdom of others right now. People who have weathered challenges like this.

What struggles do you fight against and what struggles do you ride like waves?


In a fight with failure

Hi all.

It has been a long time since I’ve posted and that is because it feels like every area of my life has been in transition, both professional and personal. Personal is shaping up and finally becoming a little less dramatic, it seems.

On the professional note I do have some news. As of early August, Jason and I will be relocating down to Washington DC and living on the campus of Georgetown University, where I will be a Chaplain-in-Residence about 10-12 hours a week. WHat an incredible opportunity, And Jason and I will live for free in a small apt in a beautiful area at a school with so much to do and see!


With the rest of my time, I will be serving as Interim Pastor to Pilgrim UCC in Silver Spring MD.


I am beyond excited about both, and my current hospital seems very sad to see me go. I’ve been getting lots of professional affirmation. 

Until this week.

This week I am attending a conference for professional Chaplains and was seeking certification. I felt like I was a great candidate. I helped start a program from scratch! I am young and have fresh ideas to offer the field. Not to mention the organization says they certify nearly 85% of the people who apply. But a very very very late arrival the night before because of delayed flights (and perhaps a little too much pride on my part) ended with me NOT being passed through. I have two more competencies (out of 40) to work on a little further and I reappear before the committee in January. 

And now I am sitting through the conference carrying around this sort of secret shame. It hurts, it really does. It makes me feel invalid, like a failure, like I am kidding myself and that the only reason I am doing so well as a Chaplain is because my hospital is in a small town isolated area and maybe they just don’t know any better. 

And so the thoughts go….beating me up and stinging and pushing me into a shell. It is hard to want to mingle and socialize with other Chaplains (some brand new certified) feeling this way. 

But life does go on. The two competencies I need to work on are very thought-provoking. One is tending to grief IN crisis at the bedside (not just with outpatients) and the other is learning to more appropriately end pastoral relationships when it is needed—which in a hospital is all the time. Not to mention that that will be something I must keep in my head regularly doing interim ministry for a church with a definitive end date. I must connect but also be able to detach.

I acknowledge that I am new in this ministry and still have a lot of growing to do. I felt sorry for myself and was saying “why me”. But I keep reminding myself of what one delightful older gentleman at the hospital said when he found out he had stage 4 cancer of the lungs even after he quite drugs and smoking and has been living clean. He said…

…”Why NOT me?”
And it is true. There is a lesson (or many) for me in this. Lessons about humility and perseverance. Lessons about confidence and owning my call. Lessons about hearing all the affirmations of my gifts JUST as loudly as the one or two critiques which can so easily drown out everything else. 

Maybe one day, I will be among the leaders at this conference, making a difference with this community and have this as part of my story—that I had to try and try again to make it here in this profession. A lot of people need to hear that story. I know a lot of people are fighting through the swamp of failure, same as me, trying to make it onto solid ground. 

So it still hurts, but its a hurt I can use. 

intro to the world, or the miracle of birth

I was given the opportunity to witness a birth on our Labor & Delivery Unit. I arrived this morning at 7 and the patient was 9 cm dilated. The family was warm, welcoming and had a great sense of humor. I was particularly impressed with dad-to-be, who though he was relatively young and they were not married, was attentive every moment to mom. He must have massaged her back for hours nonstop!  She took a while to get to 10 but then began pushing and I was right in the action, holding a leg back and helping her stay calm. Mom-to-be was a rock star until about two hours of pushing and her epidural wore off (YIKES) and she was making very little headway. She went from calm and determined to crying, exhausted and in agonizing pain. That was tough to see, but very real. They decided she needed a c-section because baby was really wedged in there. I got to be in the OR for that also. It was gory at points, sure, but I made myself watch. It is honestly a miracle what we can do for each other. The doctors and nurses were phenomenal and professional. When they pulled that 8 pound baby out of petite mom-to-be’s stomach, I found myself in awe and with tears in my eyes.


It sounds cheesy, but I felt like I was watching a basic human experience. We all went through it some way or another in our birth. Someone cried over us and pushed until they were purple in the face, sweating and groaning and wiped out to bring us into this world. We all were carried and nourished by someone else’s internal body. Someone else’s fragile body was strong enough to build us from scratch. It really is a complete and utter miracle.

What I Love about “This is 40”

I love new humor in movies nowadays, making fun of our addiction to technology, our penchant for swearing, our ridiculous things that we get mad about. One such movie that really charmed me recently (AND made me think) was This is 40


It is unrealistic in the sense that the main actors are very good looking and their imperfections appear cute and quirky as opposed to mind-numbingly irritating or neurotic like the rest of us normal folks. However, this movie does try to lift up the fact that when two people are in a couple, it is a seesaw all the time. The one you love is your very favorite person. But then also, especially as comfort builds, that person also is the target of all your angst and annoyance about the world and about life when it gets hard. Not everyone fights with yelling and name-calling and silent treatments the way the couple does in this movie (I know I do all that stuff), but still everyone I think can relate to the fact that the people we love the most end up seeing the worst of us.


And I think some part of us wants them to see it. We want to know that there are a couple of people in the world with whom nothing we do or say could ever completely turn them away from us. That is why the only other person i argue with as much as my husband is my twin sister—the other half of me, a genetic copy of ME!

I think there is something really comforting about this flaw in all of us. We want to be loved and we don’t want anything to mess that up. Yet when life gets messy and we feel so imperfect, we want to know that someone will bear with us. Even if we hate ourselves, someone else will still remain to love us. That’s the irony too. The message to us all from childhood is to be yourself, but sometimes that means being irrational, demanding, emotional, cold, rude or broken. And most of the world cannot handle that. But we like to believe that someone can. And it is not without a battle. This movie feels like a pattern of 

good warm loving time….knock down dragout fight…..good warm loving time…knock down drag out fight

and maybe we should not resist that so hard. Maybe we need to somehow find a way to cherish the painful, awkward and growing moments just as much as the ones that feel effortless and great. 

I don’t know if this makes any sense. And I don’t pretend to be any kind of an expert on marriage. I’ve only been married for seven months. But I think we live in a world different from our grandparents (most of whom were able to be married for 50/60/70 years) and never contemplate divorce or quitting on each other. We live in a different world with new pressures and constant (over) stimulation and an unstable economy but an ever-increasing push to look and act successful and together. All of these things make it hard to do what our grandparents did. But maybe when we say “marriage is hard work. you have to be willing to fight for it”, maybe that is literally the truth. And maybe it’s true of any real relationship—with family, with friends, with anyone where we are trying to be genuine rather than fake or air-brushed or perfect. 

If we are willing to accept the real when it feels like crap, then maybe those heart-warming and loving moments will feel all the more real too. 






Emma Green | The Atlantic

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