Sunday, July 12, 2015

Staying Connected

Image taken from

On a recent date night, my handsome husband took me to see Pixar's new film Inside Out. It's about a little girl and her emotions. I'll admit, I feel like I'm kind of an expert in this area already with three dramatic daughters at home, but the movie made an impression on me.

Riley, the pre-adolescent main character, moves with her family from an idyllic Minnesota childhood filled with friends, family, and hockey to bustling San Francisco to support her father's new business enterprise. Things do not go smoothly. Even the strongest of family units can be jarred by the stress of relocating, and cracks begin to show in Riley's family almost immediately. The moving truck is delayed, the new house and school aren't exactly what Riley had expected, and Riley's dad is overwhelmed with setting up his new business and investors.

The movie dives into what is going on in Riley's head as she forms new memories and attachments in her new home. The characters Joy, Anger, Sadness, Disgust, and Fear all play parts in forming her new identity. She is trying to make new connections to old ideas, to the things that make her uniquely her--her friends, her sense of humor, her love of hockey, her family. But these old pieces of her identity are being seriously strained. She misses her old friends. She struggles to try out for a new hockey team. She's not feeling like her silly self. And it seems like her family unit has been irreparably damaged. She just wants things to go back to the way they were. 

The most important pieces of Riley's identity become untethered until all that's left is her family, and even that is hanging by a thread. But then a strange thing happens: she begins to form new islands of her personality. And the old ones return--a bit different, but still there. Who Riley is is a fluid thing, influenced by her new environment, but no less beautiful than before--just different. 

I think ministry life is a lot like the movie Inside Out, and I encourage you to see it for yourselves. Appointments and the friends and support network that go along with them are in a regular state of flux. It might feel after a particularly difficult meeting or big move that you are unsure of who you even are anymore.  But as you undoubtedly know already, you are always growing and changing, becoming the person God is shaping you to be. Sometimes this change comes easily, like adding honey to your tea--the addition makes the end result sweeter and more comforting. But sometimes this change is hard, like boiling water for pasta--messy, hot, and time-sensitive, but eventually everything softens.

When change comes, it can be helpful to maintain meaningful connections to the things that make us us--friends, family, pets, and hobbies. Social media like Facebook and Twitter has made it easier than ever to stay connected with friends and family. My family finds it helpful to stay in contact with old friends through Face Time or Skype. We try to combine new as well as old when we move, so that there is familiarity along with the newness--same bedspread but new curtains, for instance. Maintaining routines, like morning prayers and devotions or keeping a regular sabbath, can also help.

We also add people to "our tribe" in each community we live, forming a beautiful and varied network of support everywhere we go. We do this through inviting other young families in our church or nearby clergy to dinner once a week, or by striking up conversations with people we meet at the park or grocery store. I'll admit that this is easy with young children, as they are a reliable source of conversation starters, but you'd be surprised how much you have in common with people once you start talking. That "me, too!" moment is the best feeling of connection I know.

You don't need to be in ministry to experience these issues! Tell me: how do you maintain meaningful connections during challenging times?

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