Moving Stinks. But You Learn Stuff

11953217_10153660281852340_3528284533380871409_n One week ago today, my husband updated his FB cover photo with this shot from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. People who were familiar with the movie asked if we had "top men" working on it.

Top. Men.

It's been a whirlwind, but we're in our new home, after 12 years in what I've come to call our starter home. It was a great place for many reasons and lots of seasons, including three baby seasons. But 12 years is too long to be in a starter home.

There's way more to be done, but every box not remaining in storage or containing stereo equipment has been unpacked. I've made daily trips to the recycling place, and now any cardboard that remains will fit in our regular bin. I'm kinda surprised it came together as fast as it did, but I worked my tail off all summer to organize and purge things, and well, I'm a little compulsive.

We're home.

It's been a while since we did this, so I've learned and relearned stuff about moving.

Strength is not always visible. The guys who moved us didn't look like bodybuilders. But I can't believe the size and weight of the boxes these guys were carrying, seemingly with minimal effort. We have a side-by-side chest of drawers that they brought down a flight of stairs and up another---with the clothes in it. This is a good reminder to those of us who run, bike, swim, or lift, but who don't necessarily look like it. Strength, flexibility, endurance---these can be present even without a perfect-looking body.

It's important to say goodbye. My spiritual director asked me several weeks ago how we would mark the transition away from the old house. Unfortunately the kids and I ended up doing this after Robert had left to meet the movers at the new place, so he wasn't a part of it. But we went room by room and named some of our favorite memories, then said "Goodbye family room!" "Goodbye kitchen!"

Moving has its milestones. An inevitable one for me is crying in my new Target because I can't find where they keep the shelf paper. Ahem. But there are others: The first morning you wake up and aren't confused about where you are. First meal. First time writing down the new address on a form. And yes, the first discovery that your perfect new home has its quirks (the garbage disposal that makes a grinding noise, the closet door that comes off its track). Be gentle with yourself.

Bikes are bulky and awkward. And we have no garage anymore. That's it.

Look for it first. I did most of the unpacking, which means I alone know where everything is. I've told the other inhabitants of my house to look in at least three logical places before they ask where something is. I hope this will save my sanity and also give them an idea of where other stuff is as well.

The Internet makes it so much easier. "It" being everything. Oh my goodness, I can't even tell you. Such a difference from previous moves. I remember driving around Atlanta with Robert back in 2000, before we knew anyone, whining to one another, "We just want something easy like The Black Eyed Pea! Surely there's gotta be tons of stuff like that here. But where?" This time around, I found and visited my local rec center to go swimming days earlier than I would have if I'd had to look it up in a phone book.

But friends who'll be your guide are invaluable. My friend Juli lives down the street from us. She spent part of an afternoon last weekend introducing our kids to the neighborhood kids, and has made a point of inviting us to stuff. The Internet can be a big virtual neighborhood, but there's no substitute for actual neighbors.

It's the small stuff. I know we'll enjoy the big deck overlooking a tiny bit of the lake here in Leafy Suburb. And the running trail out the back door is calling my name... or it will be in 61 days when I can run again. But I'm rejoicing at the little things that make life more pleasant and agreeable. Today it's the drawer under the oven that's perfect for the aluminum foil and sandwich bags so they're not in a huge jumble under the sink.

Hope you are rejoicing in the small things today too.

I Don't Believe in Soul Mates

Look what we did! Happy 20th Anniversary to me and my favorite person*!

It feels both bizarre, and the exact opposite of bizarre, to have reached this milestone. Being married to one another is just what we do, is all. There are all kinds of books and articles about how to have a happy marriage---I'm not inclined to add to their number, even if I felt I had some wisdom to offer, which I don't. Because I've got to be honest. Marriage is a crap shoot. You hope you have some enduring compatibility and you work at it and you let a lot of stuff go, and still there's all this stuff that acts upon you that you don't have a lot of control over. Financial hardship can be a huge stressor. Health crises can put couples to the test. Family support is invaluable.

The presence or absence of those things does not mean a marriage's success or demise. But we don't do this work in a vacuum. And Robert and I have been very lucky.

Check out this interesting post that correlates divorce rates to a whole host of factors. Did you know that the more people spend on their weddings, the more likely they are to divorce? And the more people who attended your wedding, the more stable your marriage is likely to be?

I am a fan of John Gottman's work about making marriages work, and give his books to couples I'm counseling before marriage. Aside from that, anything I could say about marriage would be A Guide To Being Married to Robert Dana, and that's just not going to be very useful to you.

Instead, if you'll indulge me, I wrote this a long time ago, and I post it in honor of the day.

i don't believe in soul mates, The One, you complete me, i've been waiting for a girl like you, a feeling deep in your soul says you were half now you're whole.

but i did have a dream once: i stood outside my childhood home and a party buzzed and clattered within. and my guide (faceless person) said my soul mate was inside. i wandered slowly, scrutinizing each face: is it you? hmm... no. let's see. no. maybe? no. oh, no! no!

at first, i was unhurried; later, i grew troubled: the crowd had thinned, maybe he'd left, while i was wasting my time with my who's who of what-might-have-beens-and-thankfully-weren't.

in the last room he turned, you turned, and smiled, plaid shirt and jeans. (where are your glasses?) and the great thing about dreams is, you get to be surprised by the predictable.

i woke up, and the dream, everything, vaporized; i was bereft, but a miracle happened-- you didn't disappear.

i don't believe in soul mates.

i believe in choices, experiences, quiet over breakfast, a hello at the end of the day, the heaven in ordinary things,

and this dream.


*That's a reference to Jake Armerding's song, "Favorite Person," which I've been humming all day. "When we all stand as one, when they're playing Mendelssohn, when we're rich, when we're poor, when we are forevermore... you're my favorite person in this world."

Nine in Ten: Memorable Ministry Moments over the Last Decade

womeninministryI recently celebrated the 10-year anniversary of my ordination to ministry in the Presbyterian Church (USA). I'm pretty big on milestones, so I've been reflecting a lot on the past decade---what I've learned, how I've grown, the joys and the challenges. I've decided to compose a top 10 list of the most memorable moments of ministry and what they revealed about the God I believe in and this vocation I am called to pursue. Here they are in no particular order:

When I became reverend mother. I went through the final steps of ordination with a 5-week-old infant in tow. I remember showing up to one of the clearance interviews with a briefcase under one arm and a baby in the other. It felt very right to carry those two vocations, one in each hand. I have never known motherhood without ministry, nor ministry without motherhood. Maybe it would be less messy if I only had one to contend with. But for me, these twin callings teach, balance, and mitigate one another.

Read the other moments (and why there are only nine) at the Women in Ministry series, hosted by Katherine Willis Pershey at her blog.  So pleased to be able to participate.

Ten Years In

Screen Shot 2013-05-29 at 2.25.18 PM This Saturday is the 10th anniversary of my ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

2003 was a hell of a year. My father died, I had my first child, I graduated from seminary, we moved to Northern Virginia, I was ordained, I took my first pastoral position, and we moved a second time, into the house we still inhabit. That brings us up to July of that year.

In August I started therapy.

When I began seminary, a non-religious friend told me he didn't see me doing this forever. "It's great what you're doing; I just don't see you doing the same thing long term. You'll move on to something else."

He didn't mean it unkindly. I wondered myself whether ministry would stick. I had worked for several years prior to seminary, but never for more than a few years at any specific job. Now, ten years in... I don't know. Is that long term? I remember when we started the Ask the Matriarch feature on RevGalBlogPals, I thought that those women seemed so experienced. Now I'm at that same vintage! Wow.

The great thing about ministry is that it's always changing. Maybe it's the last great generalist occupation. Depending on the day, I am a grief counselor, teacher, building manager, grant writer, desktop publisher, camp counselor, thought leader, fundraiser, community organizer, social media specialist, meeting facilitator, sandwich-maker, dispute mediator, contract negotiator, artist, and of course, preacher.

I've served two churches as pastor, but really I've served many more than that. Communities change as people come and go, as mission and ministry changes---as the world changes. My seminary professors were very clear that the era of Christendom was over; the idea that "everybody" goes to church, especially out of duty or societal expectation, is a thing of the past. The church of the future would have to be flexible, missional, risk-tolerant, creative. So I was prepared for an ever-changing vocation and an ever-changing church.

Still, I have been astounded by just how quickly things are changing. I harbored a secret hunch that there would always be a place for traditional worship, structure and church practice, provided they were offered with integrity, warmth, authenticity and excellence. I'm doubting that assumption more and more---and I'm someone who's generally comfortable with alternate forms of church! I imagine how hard it must be people who aren't prepared, who are still looking around flummoxed at how the world has moved on, asking "Why can't we just plan a really great VBS and have that do the trick?" I think this is why I'm drawn to NEXT Church---it's a place where churches of all shapes and sizes can acknowledge that doing "the old things better" is not going to work. So now what?

I happen to be walking with several friends who are discerning next steps in ministry. Some of them are actively interviewing with congregations. Others would like to be, but are waiting for a nibble. (In fact I wonder whether I am called to complete some training in spiritual direction/spiritual guidance.) It's interesting to be the sounding board for these friends during my own 10th anniversary milestone. I feel very fortunate to have pieced together a vocation that works for me and that feels fruitful and right. But it's not what I would have predicted for myself. More on that another time, perhaps.


Image source: Columbia Theological Seminary Vantage, Summer 2003. That's me with Shelia Council and David Knauert, of blessed memory. Still can't believe he's gone.

It Started in 1987

My freshman year in high school, I was permitted one elective. I chose journalism. After taking J1, in which you learned all the copyediting marks, acquired your own Associate Press style book and learned the difference between a nameplate and a masthead, you were eligible to be on the newspaper staff. I joined the staff sophomore year.

We published every three weeks. The first issue was a nightmare. Not only was I learning about reporting and deadlines, but we had this dreadful typesetting machine we had to use. I honestly remember nothing about it except that it was huge and lived in its own room. I think there were mathematical calculations involved to get the character spacing right. Mistakes were costly in terms of time, patience, and weird, fax-like ribbons of paper.

Part of the reason I don't remember the typesetter well is that whoever trained me let me know that I would not be using it for long. Something new was coming.

By the time our second issue came out, the journalism room was stocked with a fleet of Macintoshes, loaded up with PageMaker 1.0. I can't say it was a smooth transition, but it was blindingly obvious to everyone in that room what an improvement the Apples were over the typesetting machine.

That was 1987. I was 15. I haven't looked back since.

(I will also say that my comp sci husband still has his old NeXT computer in our basement. Despite my cajoling, it still remains, a relic of fine engineering from a bygone era, gathering dust.)

Amid all the tributes on Twitter and Facebook last night, there was a tiny thread of skepticism, questioning whether it's appropriate for people to mourn someone we didn't even know, whether a tycoon like Jobs really changed our lives.

Of course he did. Of course he did. This tribute is especially lovely.

My busy, crammed-full life is made more elegant through the use of tools he imagined and helped create. People will be studying his life and career for lessons about leadership and creativity for years to come. Here's my feeble contribution to that.

Yes, he was flawed. And yes, he was a billionaire, an economic "Have" at a time that people are thinking about what it means to be part of the 99%. But is that the standard? Only poor perfect people get to be mourned and missed? How cynical.

But enough from me. I've posted Job's commencement speech at Stanford before, but here is the part that's been going through my mind:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.

This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960's, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.

I'm Irish... But Aren't We All Today?

Early in the week I asked the twitterverse whether it was polemical to wear orange instead of green on St. Patrick's Day. I am Protestant, after all. And yes, I am part Irish, but isn't everyone today? I'm also Scottish and English and countless other northern European things. Even my married name means "The Dane." But still. Irish.

My father’s family is big and Irish and Catholic. My dad was supposed to be the priest in the family. He even went to seminary for a time; it didn’t stick. Exhibits A, B, C, and D: my siblings and I.

He died a Presbyterian seeker, heavily influenced by the spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The summer before Robert and I got married, we were at a McKibben family event and someone asked us whether our wedding was going to be in the church. I said yes, seeing as how it was a verbal question… I didn’t pick up on the capital letters. Yes, we’re getting married in the church as opposed to Hermann Park or VFW Hall. They were asking about The Church.

My grandparents are as staunch as you can get in their Catholicism. I’m sure it grieves them that few to none of their dozen-plus grandchildren are Catholic.

But I got a letter from them recently, and it was addressed to the Rev. MaryAnn Dana.

In it they shared a hope that they could someday come and hear “their number 1 granddaughter preach the Word of God.”

I'm wearing green.

what's in a name?

Several years ago we had the first floor of our house painted—living room, family room, kitchen and dining room. We chose a rich blue for our dining room, and it was my favorite color of the ones we chose. The trouble was, we never used the dining room. We’re just not in a formal dining stage of our lives. With three small children, we’re into simpler fare—tacos on the everyday plates, not tuna tartare on the china.

For me, the dining room became a source of low-level stress, a 180-square-foot monument to the lives we weren’t living. I finally realized that life was too short to be held hostage to the Should.

So, during the Snowpocalypse of 2010, we shoved the dining room table up against a wall, moved in a desk, organized all of our arts and crafts supplies into baskets and bins, and transformed the dining room that we used two days a year into the Blue Room, which we use every day of the year.

The Blue Room is where my daughter Caroline goes to work on her homework, or where we make beads together. It’s where Margaret will slip away to draw yet another series of smiling princess drawings. It’s where toddler James pounds on Play-Doh. And it’s where I write, work on sermons, read, knit, and do other creative things.

After several years of generating musings on the Internet, whether on Facebook or other online venues, this blog will be my online Blue Room—the place where I put my favorite stuff, and generate new stuff as well. This is where I’ll link to and reflect on writing projects, share progress on these books I’m intermittently writing, ruminate about life as a part-time solo pastor of a lovely, quirky congregation in Northern Virginia, and more.