Word of the Week

A couple of weeks ago I shared with you that my word for 2018 was connection. I wrote about the frustration I've felt about how busyness and schedules and how life seems to keep me from what I most crave: connection.

I told you that I wanted MORE when it came to my friendships and how our home was used to build community.

It was a bold intention, I suppose, and I had no idea how it would all play out. But, as I stand here at the beginning of February, I'm excited. Connection is finding me.

Here's 4 things I'm learning. I'd thought I'd share because maybe it might be of help to you too. 

Ask someone to dinner. 

So many of us wait on the invitation. We don't take initiative. We forget our home can be used for good. Or that meals can be part of the sacred everyday.

Not everyone has the time and space of life to do this, I know. But, I am. Having a small child means that my evening routines are full of structure and predictability. I cook more than I ever had in my life. Why not include one more? (And no need to make it fancy. Home cooked meals are so rare after all even if it came from a box!)

In the past couple of weeks, our supper table has included friends and colleagues alike. Though it of course means more dishes to clean, I'm always glad the night happened. 

Travel to see people if you need to. 

Costs. Work. And schedules mean that we can't always travel. But if you were to ask me one thing that I want to spend my extra income on, it's always travel. I will spend money on travel any day if it takes me to visit someone who builds up my soul.

Two weeks ago I did just that. When Kevin asked me what I wanted for Christmas I said, "a trip to Oklahoma" and with a whisper I also asked, "By myself?" And that's just what I got: a couple of days to be around people who feel like family to me without the distractions of caring for anyone else.

And I was all the better for being HOME. 

Notice those who care about connection like you do. 

Isolation is an easy disease to take on (as I was doing). It's so easy to think "you're the only one" when to comes to your longings. But if you open your eyes to conversations and spaces you find yourself in you might just notice new people. Or people who were there all the time who are hoping for what you are too.

In the past two weeks, I've sat across the table from two friends, both of whom I've known for a long time, sharing with me their same frustrations about the "I'm busy" culture. We've nodded our heads together. And we've echoed how much we want more for our how we spend our days with delightful people in them!

So what a great place to start: the people I don't have convince that connection is so important!

Surround yourself with art.  

Art can often say what we do not yet have words for yet. Go to any play. Read poetry. Watch a documentary. View an art show and you'll often walk away with breathless awe of what you're feeling.

For as much as I knew "I wanted more connection" I wasn't really sure what it looked like.

But, recently I've found myself watching a lot of the BBC show, Call the Midwife on Netflix. Though I've watched seasons of it before, I'd never finished the series and I'm glad that now I am. Each episode is full of people working together, depending on each other, wading in the deep waters of grief, loss and love without limits.  Though it's set in the 1950s and 60s and so much about our culture is different, I can't help but watch it and long for what is present in the show in my life too. This seeing is exactly the gift of art! We see.

What about you? How are you living into your intentions of the New Year? And if connection is something you're hoping for, how is it going?



P.S. Like what you've been reading with me? Want to share with a friend? Here's how. 

Have you experienced a time in your life when failure creeps in?

Such has been how I have felt the past couple of months. Trying to heed the advice I often give to others: "Lead from your scars, not your wounds" (Thanks Nadi Bolz Webber). I haven't written about it here.

My blog is primarily pastoral not-self confessional. I'm not a fan of public over sharing. I say that's what coffee dates with friends are for! BUT, something in me has tugged toward writing about failure today. Maybe someone needs to hear it?

Today is not the first time I've shared about failure. Through the time I've been blogging, I've written about my own struggles with depression, infertility, and even marriage. A theme of my writing for sure is what it means to find faith in the dark night of the soul. Some of you have told me I've been a healing companion for you on your journey. For this I am more grateful than you know.

Yet, here I am again. Even if you know that joy has seasons and failure is just a part of life. It still can feel rotten to feel stuck.

In my case, it seems everyone around me is running faster and jumping higher. And I'm behind them all just falling on my face.

And, why you wonder?

I've felt like a failure because my memoir, Birthed hasn't had the success I would have liked for a multitude of reasons most notably because there still isn't market demand for infertility stories. It's so hard to beg people to care about what they don't want to talk about.

I've felt like a failure in my friendships.  As much as I try to value people and make time for others, human relationships are messy. Most of us simply do what we want to do. Often this means hurting others (even if we're making the best choices for ourselves). It has just been a season where I feel I've drawn the short end of the stick more than my confidence can handle.

I've felt like a failure in my time management. I've overcommitted myself to projects I can't complete. And sometimes there are no quick fixes for these poor choices. It just is what it is and we can't rest until everything is finished.

And I've felt like a failure because can't seem to find the advocates I need for the orphan care and the work I'm doing over at Our Courageous Kids. My motivation skills seem to have lost their touch.

Even if you want to rise above failure, it can feel like an endless cycle. The more you feel it, the worst it gets. (For all of you Enneagram buffs can you tell I'm a 3?).

So how can you move forward with a mess of failure all around?

For now, this is what I know: grace is the thing that keeps me going.

Grace tells me that my poor choices (or that of others) aren't the end of the story. Grace reminds me that broken relationships will find redemption somehow. Grace offers that unexpected gifts are waiting for me when I least expect it.

And then practically, I can offer grace back to myself. Saying, "It's ok that I can't be this or that right now." Or giving myself permission to sit on the couch if it is the one thing that makes me feel better. Or even something extreme like flying across the country to see people I love (which I did last week!).

My life has purpose and meaning even if it doesn't feel like I'm living into my potential right now. The words of Lamentations 3: 22-23 ring in my ears:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

This "failure season" of mine will indeed pass. And yours will too.

There's a post I've needed to write all week. It starts like this,"Goodbye, dear Fran."

Fran died on Tuesday morning breaking my heart.

I first met Fran in 2007. I was her pastor. I started visiting her at the senior pastor's request as part of my associate pastor job. But before I knew it, I was at her house more than was asked of me. I was in a season of life that didn't really fit me. But with Fran I always seemed to fit in just fine.

She was a 83-year-old shut-in. Well, sort of. While it was true, Fran lived in her home alone, but she never wanted you to say she was "shut in." Fran got out!

She drove her own car with pride (though honestly I held my breath when I rode with her). She came to church every week, Sunday School and worship alike. She got her hair done at JCPenney's. And, she bought her own groceries. She was always up for a meal out if it involved a person she liked and Chinese, Ledo's pizza or Italian.

I kept going back to see her during that two-year tenure in her town because there was something about my conversations with Fran that always left me better.

This was the magic: Fran saw me. 

When we first met, Fran saw my gifts for preaching (and especially loved that she could hear me when I spoke without having to turn up her hearing aids).

Fran saw that I was lonely living out on my own for the first time in Gaithersburg, MD when all my friends and husband-to-be lived in DC.

Fran saw that I worried about being true to myself and living out my calling. There were many days when it all felt too confusing. "You'll get there, Elizabeth. You will."

And when Fran came to my church office the day I told her that I was leaving (another congregation called me to be their solo pastor across town), we both wept. We wept and wept and wept. But she knew I needed to go. "You are meant to be in the pulpit every week," she reminded me over and over again. "But don't forget me."

I promised her I wouldn't as she and several other members of the church treated me to a goodbye lunch.

And I didn't. Over the next several months, we crossed the bridge together of becoming friends.

And this was the magic: I saw Fran. 

I saw that Fran was a member of a church that didn't always get her either. (Never lacking of opinions, Fran wasn't afraid to say a project or budget item was foolish. Got to love a truth-telling woman!).

I saw that Fran was a person that enjoyed a rich conversation, even though she lived alone. People don't have these very often in our fast paced everything, she often told me. 

I saw Fran as a person with much to offer the world-- if even just in talking to me for the afternoon-- at age 84, 86 and 88. As I left her house, she watched me pull out of the driveway as she waved mouthing: "I love you."

I loved her too.

The cherry on top was the fact that she and my husband shared a birthday. So even as life took me to places like Oklahoma (which she wasn't happy about), Kenya, Honduras and beyond, we always kept up on the phone and through visits when I was back in the area.

Kevin and Fran and I even shared a birthday lunch together over pizza. It was her 90th.

There's a book I finished only minutes before I heard she was reaching the final end of her life called Adopted: the sacrament of belonging in a fractured world by Kelley Nikondeha.

In the final chapter, Nikondeha writes this, "God's family stretches beyond our smaller notions of biological or ethnic connection.  . . . It's the continual work of the prophets and the Spirit to open our eyes to this simple yet astounding truth: Anyone can be our family if we let them."

Fran was my family. I'm glad God made it so.

She celebrated with me the purchase of my home wanting to see pictures of every room.

She cheered on the publication of my book Birthed and read every word telling me: "You've got wise things to say to people, Elizabeth, even us old people. We need to learn from you."

And with much joy she welcomed my daughter into her loving embrace as well. Giving my girl the short, but powerful gift of having a "great-grandmother" something I couldn't have offered her without Fran. For Christmas last year she wrote my daughter a $15 check with a card.

One day, I'll tell my daughter about these memories of Fran.

I'll tell her that when she meets people who truly see her, like Fran did me, she'll need to stay close. I'll tell my daughter the most beautiful parts of life emerge when we plant both feet of ours in the space of love.

Sure, it will hurt like hell when they leave us. But, our hearts will have been forever molded into something so real. Our souls will be filled with such belonging because of love's pure joy.

Fran wasn't afraid of death in the end. When I visited her a month before she died, "Now, don't be afraid to pray for me to die. I'm ready." (I would pray no such prayer though!)

This I know for sure: Fran's story will forever be a part of mine. Her life, her living room, her telephone opened up space for me to be me.

Goodbye, dear Fran. You will be missed more than you know. And I hope I don't cry too much when I lead your funeral. You deserve the best because you were the best.

Few of us intentionally set out to hurt those we love.

But we do.

Angry words come out of our mouths.

Jokes that seem funny to us, offend.

We forget birthdays.

But even worse than this, often our exclamations of joy can rub deeper wounds into a loved one's pain.

I know I've been guilty of such.

But, the clash of pain and joy is not something you learn about early in life.

From where I sit, I believe, it's often a lesson that tackles us in our 20s and 30s when age no longer equals simultaneous activity with our peers. College, relationships, birthing, etc all come (or not) at a unique pace.

My first hint of this lesson came when I visited a mentor's house while home on a college break.

My friend suffered from depression (though I didn't have any idea what this meant back then) and toxic friendships. She really needed a friend to sit and hear her pain. It had been a tough week.

But she was my mentor, so I wanted to tell her my stories before any of that.

So, I charged right in.

I pulled out a photo album I'd put together and started showing her what I'd been up to. Pages after pages of posed pictures and happy faces. I was so proud of the new college friends I'd made.

But I could tell as we neared the end of my "show and tell" hour that sadness found its way to her face. Though I didn't have the courage to tell her what I noticed, the truth was this: my joy rubbed against her pain.


A year ago, I sat with another friend, a peer who was visiting my home for the first time.

I was so excited that she'd come to visit that I was eager to share all those things you can only see when you are in a person's home. I gave a tour, especially of our new basement remodel. I showed her the framed pictures in my office. Hours later I pulled out old pictures from the upstairs bookshelf including my wedding album. On auto pilot, I told her the stories.

But again, the same thing happened.

As much as my friend tried to engage what I told her about the happy day in Southern Georgia when I became a Hagan, by the last couple of pages she was done.  My friend loved me, but she was single. She didn't want to see any more pictures of me in a white dress.

Whereas my wedding album told a story of a fulfilling union for me, my wedding album to her said, "You're alone."

My joy rubbed up against her pain.


I've been on the other side of this conflict too.

Friends have gone on and about their babies, and then sent more emails about baby #2 and #5.

My Facebook feed is full of ultrasound pictures (even some in 4D!)

And invitations to baby showers fill the mailbox.

It's joy rubbing up against my pain. It's a stomach sinking, crappy feeling that I am learning how to endure.

Because at this juncture of the Hagan household, children in the home is not something we can have (though we want).

Every time I hear stories after stories of pregnancy and "the cutest thing" my child said today from a well-meaning friend, I want to be happy and supportive. Yet, my heart aches.

But, I believe in community.  I believe in sharing in the joy and pain other's lives. My faith gives me this desire.

Is there a way to be better and ask others to be better in return?

There many not be easy answers. If any answers at all.

Our world is full of both joy and pain.

All I know is this: "I'm sorry" and "How can I be a good friend to you? with a spoon full of self-awareness is a good start.

ake4Where would you and I be today without the people we call "friends?"

Who else do we have to call when we have the most horrible day imaginable?

How else would we have gotten through those "ugly cry" years?

Who else would we turn to when the best, beyond the best thing happens to us?

Especially as our society has become more and more mobile all the time and we don't all live in the same town as a our biological families forever, friends have become essential to our being.

In fact, recently the Huffington Post said that if you want to live to 100, the quality of your relationships has a lot to do with this.

When I first was introduced to Kevin in Washington DC over 9 years ago, meeting his friends and attending their yearly "Bring Back the Love" getaways to the beach became a rhythm of our life together.  Though he never explicitly said it, if his friends didn't like me, then I was probably not going to a last.

And the same was true for me.

Friends are not only important to life within a marriage but all stages of life, married or single alike.  I've come to believe that we all need friends both the long-distance kind and the up close and personal kind. k_and_e_2.1

Those friends that we share life-long history with AND those whom we can call at a moments notice to go on a walk or to shop for something we just need a second opinion about!

Yet most of us struggle in at least one of these catagories. Especially in the post college or graduate years, it takes work.  It takes time. It takes trust. It takes vulnerability.  It takes moving to a new city and it sucking for awhile.

1476365_10151773542526875_606736933_nBut, no matter if the friend of yours lives next door or two plane rides away, there's a word that describes what keeps good friendships going. And this is commitment. Lewis B. Smedes says this in his work, Caring and Committment:

Not even mutual admiration is, by itself, enough to keep a friendship alive that long. For one thing we discover somewhere along the line that even people we admire have feet of clay. The best of us is flawed. Our flaws show through eventually; we disappoint our friends, and sometimes their disappointments hurts enough to wound our friendship. . . .

Besides, even friends who admire each other a lot drift a part when one moves to another part of the country. If I move away and don't see my friend for 5 years, and do not stay in close touch, our friendship is likely to die of malnutrition, with dignity maybe, and peacefully, but with the same result of dying. I may still admire him [or her], but I would admire him [or her] as a person who used to be my friend.

If friendships like these happen to last a lifetime, it is probably because they are more than friendships of affection, or usefulness or admiration. Most likely, they are held together because the friends are committed to each other.

So, who you want to do life together with? Who do you need to stick close to, no matter what? And, when is the last time you called them? Or texted them to just say hello? When is the last time you made a trek across the country (or a continent) just because you wanted to see their face?

We all get busy. And we all neglect relationships from time to time. To love someone is not to be there for every moment that your friend wants you to be at, but . . .

2014-06-07 13.48.38

Our life schedules reflect what is important to us the most.

So, what does your monthly calendar say about your friendships?

I am not one to throw around religious cliques. It irritates me in fact when folks in positions of religious leadership use such statements as "Everything happens for a reason" or "I guess God needed an angel" or "God helps those who help themselves."

Gross, really.

But I am reconsidering my use of the phrase "___ (loved one) must be smiling down on you now" after the miracle that came to this earth four days ago.image

My most long-term sister friend, Kristina was on baby watch on bed rest with her second cutie until early Monday morning. Her water broke and I got a text message before 6 am that  said, "I think we are having a baby today!"

Such would be exciting enough but then there was consideration of the date on the calendar itself, January 6th . . . a date that caused all of us waiting on this birth to pause in awe.

Nine years ago on January 6th (long before the days of texting) I got a phone call from Kristina-- the kind of phone call NO ONE wants to get. "We've lost Daddy," she said in between sobs.

Though only a few days earlier joy burst into this household as Kristina had gotten engaged to Richard, a car accident changed everything for her, her mother, two brothers and in a matter of seconds. The joy of wedding planning was no more. Her daddy's heart stopped beating. The rock of their family was gone.

Over these past nine years so much healing has taken place. Weddings have occurred. Babies have been born. Kristina's mom even got re-married. (And I was the wedding minister!)

But the fact that the dad, Larry never got to see or touch or hold any of his grand babies brought forth ache. (There are five of them now!) He was a great dad. He would have been an even more amazing granddad. I could just see the vision of Larry bouncing several of them on his knee and making up some silly song as he did it. Or baking chocolate chip cookies and sneaking an extra one to his oldest grandson. Or playing hide and go seek in his wooded backyard for hours on end.

image So when, January 6th came-- the awful anniversary day that all of us have on our calendars-- and Kristina was in labor with baby girl, it was hard not to say that Larry had some role in the whole thing.

Somewhere up from the world beyond he was smiling and asking God to help him show up in this special way as Xara Elgie Rose came into the world.

And what a beautiful day it was and a beautiful baby she is.

I am thankful to God for the thin places in this world that remind us that we are more than just bodies, but souls that live on through eternity with connection to the ultimate Creator.

I am thankful for the sweetness of friendship that I have with this family and the joy that is my new niece, Xara.

But most of all I am thankful for Larry and the knowing that his legacy lives on in Xara and the rest of the family.

I've been in the blogging game since 2006 back before blogging was cool or everyone and their mother had one.

My friend, Amy first told me about hers and I was inspired. (We were both kids back then! Pictured to the right). Like her, maybe I had things to say too?

(If you've been keeping up with me since the end of my seminary journey until now, you deserve a prize. Please raise your virtual hand and I'll give you one. Seriously, I will. I'll know you're legit if you can identify the name before I was: "Preacher on the Plaza")

Recently I was reading over some of the earliest posts-- posts I might have previously thought were to simple or not very challenging theologically or mostly a journal of life-- and I missed them.

I missed old school blogging. Blogging that told stories of people's kids or family parties.

Or blogging that documented vacations or life milestones.

Or blogging that wasn't afraid just to say something out of fear of how it might come back to bite your next job search.

Or blogging that only your closest friends and maybe a rare stranger that soon turned into a friend read. A blogger and friend tweeted something along these lines recently too. And got me thinking . . .

Where did the old school blogging go?

For me, I am a different kind blogger now.

I'm a blogger who is the wife of a guy who runs a global non-profit and though I say that my opinions expressed are my own, I have to remember that what I write ultimately in some way reflects back on him.

I'm a blogger who believes in the power of online community-- I write not just for friends but for those of you who I don't know in person (but maybe one day I will!).

I'm a blogger who believes in the platform of a site like this: a platform to challenge the religious norm, to be a voice when social crisis plagues our world, and to speak to those who I might never have a chance to sit down with a cup of tea with but in whom we might have a lot to learn from each other.

I'm a blogger who can't live without a blog. Though it began as a hobby and something fun to share with family and friends, over the years, I've learned that writing in a public space like this is not only important to my personal processing but to those who might want to enter into the conversation with me. Many of you have told me over the years that you are reading and thinking with me. And for this I'm so grateful.

And while I long for the days of simpler posts of what I did last weekend or what is my favorite ice cream, I can't write like that anymore.

These past years there have been some great challenges, challenges that have put me face to face with what calling, vocation and faith in deeper ways than I've ever known.

The more I grow in my understanding of God (or the mystery thereof) and how the world works, I know I have to keep wrestling with the big questions. It's just who I am. It is why I blog. (Though not to be discouraging on others who write for other reasons, of course).

My hope is that as you stop by from time to time you'll keep reading, keep commenting, keep pushing me toward new ways of thinking about life in this world.

While I might miss the ease of old school blogging, I know where I land on the other side will keep taking me to the next place I need to go. 2013 will soon be old school too!

Yesterday I hit a huge milestone in my writing life, I finished the first full draft of my manuscript of a book that will soon be looking for a publishing home (anyone want to talk to me about it?). When I hit the print button and saw the huge stack of papers that I'd produced (yes, me! I did that!) a wave of shock came over me. One leg of the marathon is over. I just couldn't believe I'd made it this far! Sure, there will be revisions after revisions left to make, but over 80,000 words on a page is a great start-- especially as I wrote most of it while having another full-time job and of course keeping up with the demands of regular life.

All of this is to say, I'm in awe of the art of writing and others who are with me on this journey.

I'm thankful as always for the support and editorial feedback of the WritingRevs-- some amazing pastoral ladies who are also working on projects of their own. Have you read Sabbath in the Suburbs or Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land? You should.

And, I'm also grateful for the larger writing community that I'm a part of-- friends who I've met on twitter who sign their tweets #iamwriting or #writing who help me remember this solitary work is most of all a community building exercise.

I'm grateful for colleagues I've made in others phases of my life who have gone before me as authors. Knowing them and watching their process helps me know that I could do it too.

One of these colleagues is Alan Rudnick. Alan and I were in a clergy group together back in our associate pastor days in Maryland. I worked at Alan's home church while he served at nearby Methodist congregation. Then, we both started solo pastorates at the same time and it has been fun to watch the progression of his ministry. He's recently completed his book with Judson Press called The Work of the Associate Pastor. It's a comprehensive collection of essays and helpful suggestions for both churches and pastors about how the ministry of an associate fits into the larger vision of the church. Looking for a book about church staff dynamics? Check it out.

Another one of these colleagues is J. Dana Trent. Dana and I were in the same class at Duke Divinity School, as part of the Baptist House of Studies program. Now, Dana is married to Fred, a former Hindu monk. She recently completed her first book called Saffron Cross: The Unlikely Story of How a Christian Minister Married a Hindu Monk which will come out in October 2013 through Upper Room Books. Dana lives the kind of life of writing, spiritual direction, teaching and ministering that inspires me on this non-traditional path I'm on, and I'm so excited to see where this publication takes her in the future. I know you will too-- I mean, who would have thought: a Baptist and an Hindu? I'm sure it will be a page turner!

Bottom line: if you want to write a book, you must make friends with people who are doing the same.

You haven't seen me blog as much as I normally do lately other than posting sermons. Writing like a crazy woman some days, I've sought to give more attention to my book long project instead of other stuff.

When I come out of my writing cave and seek to tell people what I've been up to, the number one thing people say often in a condescending tone of voice is: "That must be so healing for you" or "Writing is so therapeutic, so good for you."

And in response, I use self-control to not growl. And I really want to growl.

I realize people mean well. They're just trying to be supportive. Many can't imagine writing as honestly as I am trying to do.

But, I want to proclaim writing is not an "all about me" task. It's not something I do rooted in selfish motives. I' m not trying to throw up my emotional baggage on the world. I write because I am a writer. I write about painful things sometimes because painful things have happened to me and need to be heard. I write about joy sometimes because happy things happen to me and I want to encourage others. I write because like a painter or a carver or a sculptor, word choice is my art form. I write to practice my art. Sometimes what I produce is good art. Other times it needs to be sent back to the drafting board altogether or thrown in the trash. But it's still art. And I still must write.

If I wrote for therapy, then I should get a journal or talk to a therapist (I already do both from time to time). These things are less painful. More private. Less drafting and wasted paper.

It's burdensome task, I believe, putting your honest self out to the world, having no idea how people will respond to a story that isn't just a story to you. It's your life, and the only one you've got. Writing about your own life, I believe, can be one of the most courageous things people do.

Sure, as they say, writing can mature the soul. In writing, the pain has somewhere to go: to the paper. And, when you have to think about something long enough to find just the right word, you usually walk away with heighten self-awareness (which is never a bad thing). Healing and self-awareness are cousins. It's true.

But I don't think most writers, write because of personal sickness (though I'm sure some do, but I'm not friends with these folks). I don't think writers write so that just anyone can know their less than flattering thoughts or moments. I don't know think they write just to feel better. Writers write to connect them into what it means to be human.

And this is my point: I write because I don't know how to not write. So if you stick around, you'll have more to read in the future. And, this is what I can promise you, the stories to come will be my truth.