Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Billion Stars

I think it's fair to say that for me, turning 40 was...big.

Let me give you a quick synopsis: just after my 40th birthday last year, I put out my second album, which was the culmination of two and a half years of planning and work. We had the CD release party at Cafe Du Nord, a venue I'd always dreamed of playing. Then, over the course of the fall, I realized I was being called to become a UU minister, and in February I received an acceptance letter from Starr King School for the Ministry. And, as many of you know, a month later Emily and I got the call we'd been waiting a long time for: our foster-adopt agency had a six-week-old baby girl for us, a life-altering little bundle named Genesis. There were other major developments as well, but when releasing an album is already the third headline below the fold, you get the point.

My life is looking radically different from the way it did not that long ago. And while that's exciting, it's also kind of scary because my life was already quite good.

I have a loving, supportive partner whom I've been with for over 12 years. We have our own little house, with a dog, a cat, and super sweet neighbors. I work at a nonprofit that makes a difference in the world and where my talents are both stretched and appreciated. And I'm more at home and at peace in my body than ever before.

Sometimes I have to stop and ask myself, "Am I insane?" Why would I mess with all that? It's been 17 years since I stepped into a classroom. And starting a new program when I just became a new parent? Am I so sleep-deprived that I think I can just knock out a term paper during my morning commute?

I'm risking an enormous amount by upending my life. Just dealing with homework and a job would be majorly stressful, but we've got an infant who's already practicing her crawling moves. Even parenting would seem more manageable without the heartbreaking, gut-wrenching uncertainty inherent in the foster-adopt process. At some point, we may have to uproot our lives from San Francisco so I can pursue my ministry. I also know that all the demands on my time and energy have the potential to affect my marriage, which by now is one Jenga piece too many for my poor brain to handle.

The stakes are so high that only one thing could justify putting all my blessings on the line like this: the integrity of my soul.

When I was trying to decide whether to apply to seminary, I felt filled with life and joy when I thought about going, but I felt shriveled and desiccated when I considered staying with the status quo. Ultimately, that's what dealing with change comes down to: the choice between listening to that voice "still and small," or agreeing to the slow erosion of my soul. The latter is always a bigger risk to me, because over time, the waves of regret lapping at my spirit would eat away at my core.

I watched it happen to my mom.

"What does it matter?" became her relationship to life. All she could do was tread water in the ocean of old hurts she carried with her, with no hope of relief. One by one, she pushed people away until she was almost completely isolated. She certainly didn't have a faith community to draw on: she was convinced that one communion wafer she'd had as a girl while attending mass with a friend — she didn't know you were supposed to be Catholic — meant that her spirituality was forever compromised. Perhaps most importantly, when she looked at the night sky above her ocean of pain, she couldn't see any stars to guide her forward. For her, the fog didn't just obscure their light: it erased the very existence of a billion suns. I asked her once what she was passionate about, or even just to name some activities she enjoyed. She admitted that she used to write poetry, but then sighed in resignation, "It's too late for that."

And then one day, she was right. It was too late. On December 16, 2004, it was too late. But she'd given up on her life years before her heart stopped beating.

Seismic shifts like the ones I've experienced over the last year aren't the only way to keep the landscape of your soul vital and alive. Sometimes, it's a matter of nurturing seeds planted years ago, or finding new wonder in gardens that are already flourishing. Sometimes, it's just lying in the grass, looking up at the night sky, and trusting that above even the thickest fog, a billion stars shine on.

I wrote and delivered this piece as the Credo for the June 13, 2010, service at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco.

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