Things I Learned in 2018

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Here are twelve things I learned in 2018. They don’t correspond to particular months, but they are relatively chronological. Curious… what have you learned this year?

1) Fullness was a good word.

When the year began, the word ‘fullness’ kept popping into my thinking, so I decided that would be my focus-word for the year. It was a good choice. Just before we reached 2018, the fall of 2017 was remarkably challenging with waves of stress and sad news emerging in the lives of people close to us. In the midst of this, I decided I was really going to draw strength and care from the fullness of our larger communities and all the many relationships that are a part of them. I did. And I feel gratitude.

2) Grief is cumulative.

This is not really a new realization, but I felt this intimately this year. New griefs mingle with old griefs and call them forward. This can feel really big and can be challenging to manage when the Grief Ninjas show up. (Remember those?) At the same time, previous frameworks for mourning — that is, the ways we’ve reconfigured and stayed in relationship with what we’ve lost — can be called upon as strengths too.

3) I like limiting social media.

Several times this year, I created once-per-day or twice-per-day rhythms in checking social media sites, particularly Facebook and Twitter, and I love it. (I’m currently on a twice-per-day rhythm. I also limit the time). This makes social media more manageable and less time consuming, and I find that I actually look forward to checking rather than feeling like this is something compulsive or mindless that I’m doing.

4) “Stories are our cure.”

Hannah Gadsby’s comedy-special-turned-masterpiece-about-trauma-and-storytelling “Nanette” really made a big impact on me. As you may recall from a previous post this year, I watched it one morning in April and was so moved by it that I watched it again that same evening — twice in one day. “Stories are our cure,” she says, convicted that when the time is right, healing can happen when we allow our communities to hold our stories with us and “take care of our stories” alongside us. I watched this, knowing that I was going to create more space, including more communal space, for some of my own stories this year. It was one of the most transformative aspects of 2018.

5) Our family is constructed. Big whoop. (Actually, it’s awesome).

In addition to our families of birth and marriage, for whom we are very thankful, we have a big, constructed, chosen family. This isn’t new. We’ve been building our family in this way since we were married in 2005, and it has expanded in such lovely directions as we’ve lived in four different states together. This is one of the most beautiful aspects of our lives, but sometimes… I feel sadness at the ways that frameworks for family are limited culturally, narrowing how people think about such things, who gets to be considered close and significant, how care is “supposed” to flow, and what roles people are “allowed” to take. (More about this in a future book? See number 7?) But here’s what I’ve decided: I’m going to stop acting like our family relationships are weird. We’re hardly the first people to have a constructed, chosen family. We’ve just experienced this in abundance. So a big part of our family is constructed… Big whoop! And in actuality… amazing!

6) Ethics of care and inclusive spirituality help to create sustainable activism. 

I participated in the 40 Days of Action of the Poor People’s Campaign this summer, and I learned so much in that process. I traveled each week to Lansing with hundreds of people from Michigan to hear testimonies from people who are directly impacted by systemic injustices in our state and nation. People called attention to these needs by risking arrest in acts of civil disobedience. I was really touched by the community camaraderie that was built in this organizing model. People were dealing with hard subject matter and taking personal risks, but the experience felt… so good. So affirming. So life-giving. Sometimes, I think that care work and a broad, inclusive sense of spirituality are devalued in activist organizing, but both of these lead to sustainability and deep bonds in community. They’re essential to the work.

7) I have a bare bones outline for a book.

This summer, I had the very wonderful occasion to fill in at Northside Presbyterian Church while my good friend and colleague received a well-deserved sabbatical. I initiated an 11-week sermon series entitled “Kinship” and had a meaningful time crafting that series. With some work and reframing for a different medium, I think this outline could become a book.

8) I require sleep.

Well, we all do. We all require good sleep to function well, and too often, we sacrifice it or underestimate its importance. But this year, I realized that my health in particular is very sleep-dependent. I am very impacted by even one night of poor sleep (which can be a challenge because one of my particulars involves occasional insomnia!) In the fall, I declared September to be “Sleep is Sacrosanct September” and created some new rhythms that helped me sleep better. These have been working well ever since and have made such a big difference.

9) Student ministry is still my jam.

Yes, student ministry is still my jam and my deepest calling. I’ve been doing this now for more than ten years. I’ve tried many other things that I also genuinely love, but the center of my calling continues to show up right here. I am glad to discover this. In 2018, I assembled a new community of undergraduates and recent grads that meets monthly in my home. Together, we have shared meals, and we and discuss spirituality and reflections on life. The people in this circle have added great joy to me! I am very eager to discover what we will do together 2019.

10) Tell the truth, love, then wait.

This year, I was involved in some justice work that invited me to give intentional testimony alongside others. This was challenging, emotional work, but at every stage, it led to meaningful connections with others. And in the end, it led to a long-desired reunion with a community in ways I have hoped for for years. Sometimes you just have to tell the truth, love, and then wait.

11) I have emerging callings too. 

This year, a number of inklings of calling emerged in my thinking through new relationships, conversations, and reading. I find myself drawn to explore concerns of health stigma, ableism, and healthcare access, and I’m curious where this will lead in the next year.

12) I like possibility thinking.

And I take this with me into 2019. “What is possible?” This is not only a good question to ask from time to time. I find that it has feelings attached. This feels much more spacious and expansive than questions of worry and anxiety, like, “What will go wrong?” So often, when we plan our days, or our goals, or our broader hopes, we immediately worry about potential barriers. I know my mind can go there. But when we open ourselves to questions like, “What is possible?” our days become a bit of a discovery process — “When I did that, what did become possible?” —  and that leads to gratitude.

These are some of my learnings. What about you?

Renee Roederer

Sense Memory and Time

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I was driving home late last night after an out of town meeting. Some folks like long drives because it allows them to think. I admit I usually just get bored (though I pay attention to the road, no worries!)

But I did arrive in place of thinking. Specifically, I ended up in a lovely place of remembering. I was listening to the radio when U2’s song, “But I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” came on. That song transports me to another time and place. I instantly see the mountains on a drive upward from Salida, Colorado. I instantly feel such a deep sense of belonging with gratitude.

More than ten years ago, I used to travel to this place on an annual ski trip with college students. There are so many memories connected to these trips. Laughter. Inside jokes. Texans seeing snow for the first time. And… that time I became seriously injured (I don’t even remember most of the day) when a whole community surrounded me with care in ways that astounded me.

And belonging. Such a rich feeling of belonging.

Every year, some odd student would be tasked with creating a playlist. We would pop in a CD (a CD! remember those!) and listen to music as we drove up the mountain in a caravan of two or three vans. Several songs had to be included each year (The Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” Barenaked Ladies’ “If I Had a Million Dollars,” and Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” which we had to play specifically when we turned into the parking lot of the ski resort). Good trips have good traditions.

But then the playlist creator o’ the year would add other songs of their choosing. One year, or maybe multiple years, “But I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” was on the CD, meaning we listened to it several days in a row as we drove up into those mountains and prepared ourselves for full days of skiing.

I suppose the title is a bit ironic because I have such a deep sense memory of listening to that song and having a feeling of arrival. I was a very young seminary student, just barely out of college myself, and I knew I had found some of my best friends. And along with it, there’s that feeling — do you know it? — of resting in the realization that this is your group. These are my people. I remember feeling such a visceral sense of gratitude to be gathered with them and to know what this kind of group-belonging feels like.

So all these years later, I drove home in Michigan on a night when it was cold, dark, and oddly foggy, and when that song came on, I could still feel that exact same feeling. And I cried. And I loved it.

Renee Roederer

See also, J.J. STARK BLIMP JR. They’re still my people.

In 2019…

Something that’s been simmering for a while…

In 2019, I want a lot of my reading, writing, learning, and activism to move in the directions of addressing 1) ableism, 2) forms of health stigma (how stigma affects community inclusion, employment, access to resources, public safety) and 3) healthcare access.

Just putting that out into the world as an intention. I’m starting to plan some of this.

How about you? What are you intending and planning for 2019?

-Renee Roederer

Super-Strengths

[I found this photo here.]

What are you good at? — like phenomenally good at doing, creating, or cultivating?

Earlier this week, a good friend and colleague of mine asked that question in a Facebook group. She said, “Pat yourself on the back. What is the thing you’re amazing at?”

It was really lovely to name those things. A cascade of comments followed as people named and celebrated each other’s super-strengths.

Today, I want to ask you the same thing: What are you amazing at? — like phenomenally good at doing, creating, or cultivating?

Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve named it, even to yourself. Think about it internally and celebrate it. This super-strength of yours comes so naturally that you might even forget to think of it as strength or a skill. Don’t forget, not everyone can do that!

Then, beyond thinking of it internally, want to share it? Want to put it in a comment here or send me an email at revannarbor@gmail.com? I really would welcome hearing it.

Then another question… one we might want to sit with for a while… with intention…

How do we take these super-strengths and add them to the needs around us? To our larger communities? To what people are already doing?

They are certainly needed. The discovery is all about finding where they best fit with impact.

Renee Roederer

Receive with Gusto!

I was walking toward a building near campus yesterday when a person waiting outside held the door open for me. The person was about to take in a big cart, but before moving it, it seemed easier to let me go through first. So the person held the door open for me as I approached it.

When I saw that this was about to happen, I immediately sped up my walking toward the door. I probably doubled my speed. Then the person said,

“Oh, no need to hurry!” This was spoken as a kind reminder that I wasn’t inconveniencing.

I thought about how frequently we worry about taking up space, or inconveniencing, even when we are given an authentic occasion to receive. Some of us have been socialized in this direction especially.

Just the day before, I had joined a number of people in serving communion to a lovely congregation. We served by intinction, meaning that the people came forward to the front where we were standing. Then each person tore a piece of bread from a larger loaf we were holding and dipped it in the grape juice. So many people tore off teeny, tiny minuscule pieces. I wondered what would have happened if I had first invited people to take a generous piece, which would have been a more accurate symbol of what we were receiving together.

That’s when I thought of something that the poet Mary Oliver says: “Joy is not made to be a crumb.”

Likewise, I suppose,

The taking up of space — being noticed, being cared for — is not made to be hurried.

The gift of receiving is never made to be small.

Renee Roederer

Healing Healers

“We teach who we are.”

This is something that a mentor’s mentor used to say. She may have meant a variety of things by that statement, but she certainly meant that we end up teaching, extending, and tending to others in ways that reflect the most deeply held lessons from our own experiences, the kinds that rest (at times, after a struggle) at the core of our being.

“We teach who we are.”

It reminds me again that the word ‘heal’ is both active and passive at the same time. We heal in receptive ways. Healing is something that we receive, even as we work to create the conditions that make it possible.

And when we receive and integrate healing into our own lives (and this is always a process rather than an arrival) we also begin to heal — that is, participate actively in healing of others.

“We teach who we are.”

We’ve all received; when people welcome us through their own agency, we can extend our healing and learning toward others.

Renee Roederer

Let It Move Through the Network

My new mentor has had a life motto for many years:

“I always tell people, ‘I’ll only drop your hand if you drop mine,'” he says, meaning that unless you’d prefer not to stay in contact for some reason, he will stay connected in relationship with you for life. Every time I’ve sat down with him, he has said that statement at one point or another in our conversation.

What he says is true, by the way. He keeps in touch quite intentionally with hundreds of people, many of whom are former students from the years when he was a youth group leader, a campus minister, and the headmaster of a Quaker school. He’s been in touch with some of them for fifty years. It’s a big network.

We may not have a network that deep and wide, or a network with so much longevity, but we do have a network. We are connected.

And we should not forget what a resource this is, or rather, a resource of resources. I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit as I consider justice work and organizing. We can hear about needs nationally, internationally, and in our neighborhoods and feel the weight of them as solitary units, perhaps scrolling through social media at a loss about what to do or how to act. Or we can let things move through our connected network of relationships.

I heard a really important story on the radio while driving in my car earlier this week. A medical student at the University of Michigan has started a community effort with online and in-person components that empowers medical students, medical residents, and physicians to talk about stress and their own mental health needs. The medical community has the highest rate of suicides of all professions in the United States, and there is still a great deal of mental health stigma within this community. This student recognized how many physicians are struggling in silence and began to wonder what sort of large-scale impact could be created if physicians were reframing mental health stigma themselves.

I passed this story onto eight medical people in my network, and it led to really important discussions. They’ll probably pass it on too.

Change happens just this way, through relationships. And you never know what you’ll catalyze when you let things move through the network. We all have one.

Renee Roederer