Anxiously Contemplative is moving to facebook!

Hey friends! I was looking for a way to condense my blog with my social media presence, and since I already have a FB page for this blog, I’m going to start writing notes there in lieu of posting separately here. I might still post here sometimes, but I’d like to make an easier platform for sharing!

Follow me on facebook!

See you all over there!!


The things I ask of God

Over the past month, I’ve been accepted at two out my three graduate schools – Candler School of Theology (out of Emory University) and Boston University. I’m still waiting to hear from Pacific School of Religion, but so far I’m so proud of myself because damn – I just got accepted into seminary!

I didn’t feel this way at first, though. I got accepted into Candler, my top choice, and immediately felt confused. And then upset that I felt confused. And then shameful that I felt like I wasn’t appreciative of this amazing opportunity that just dropped in my lap. #thanksanxiety

I started doubting what I wanted, which is to be a hospital chaplain. It still feels weird to say that, because I really just never expected that out of myself. A teacher? Sure. The head of a nonprofit? Sure. A social worker? Eh, maybe. But a chaplain? That was SO FAR off of my radar that I still haven’t owned my choice. To be honest, I’m still a little confused – but I started asking God for signs.

And God delivered – kinda. I asked for signs, and I have been getting them.

There are some that I’m still learning to accept:

-My eye doctor told me an extremely personal story based on her experience with hospital chaplaincy (and I still get teary eyed thinking of it).

-When I went for my preliminary appointment at the dental school the dentist who I had just met, like 5 minutes previously said, “oh, you’d be a great hospital chaplain”.

-My friend’s dad sent me a book and a card of appreciation after I lent a listening ear.

Then there are the signs that are VERY OBVIOUS:

-I was in a town about 20 minutes south of Seattle getting a coffee after dropping some seafarers off, and in a parked car there was a jacket, helmet, and coat all with the word “CHAPLAIN” emblazoned upon it. I looked at the car, walked away, walked back and looked again and said, “God, I still don’t believe this is a sign.”  (I know, I’m eye rolling at myself).

There are some signs that are a little bit more subtle:

-A seafarer tells me about a difficult situation that happens at the last port. The crew trusts me with this information.

-I see the a ship I’ve gotten to know over the past few months. A seafarer literally fist pumps when he sees me because he knows I have SIM cards that can connect him to his family.

-I see another ship I now know. The crew welcomes me back, remembers my name, and says they’ll give me lunch tomorrow when I come back. They do, and when I come back that afternoon for the second time that day, the chief cook gives me coffee and cake.

-My tax preparer asks that I do and I tell him I work in the port. He tells me that his father used to work in the management side of things in the port and I’m bringing back all sorts of memories for him about the different shipping lines (we also share some of my cinnamon scone…he’s a cool guy).

I asked God for signs, and I think I’ve received some. The trouble for me is actually believing in what has been shown to me. It’s kinda funny, you know? I would love a huge banner hanging from the sky that says “Karen, you should be a chaplain!” but I’m not sure if I would believe it even then. Instead, my perspective has been shifting so I can see what’s been put in front of me more clearly.

I’m going to keep asking God for signs – God can handle it. I’ve learned that my desires and yearnings can also become prayers even when I don’t expect them to because it’s actually okay to listen to the things my heart wants. It’s okay to give my feelings weight and validity and to know that prayer can be as simple as hoping for something to come to pass or as difficult as trying to pinpoint a feeling I don’t have a name for yet.



Sermon for the Ordination of Florence Li-Tim Oi, 1.24.18

I preached this sermon today at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle at the noonday prayer. The sermon is based on Galatians 3:23-28.


Photo by Revelatori on Facebook!

In the Episcopal Church, we really like the Epistles. Many Sundays we read a letter from Paul or Peter to a different community – the Romans, the Hebrews, or the Galatians as we read this morning. But who is Paul, the author of our Epistle today? Biblically, we know that he was formerly named Saul and that he persecuted the early Jesus followers. He was on the road to Damascus one day when he saw a flash of light, was blinded, and heard Jesus’ voice saying “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” After Paul is brought into Damascus, Jesus’ disciple Ananias is sent by God to lay his hands on Saul – soon to be Paul – and heal him from his blindness. Ananias is rightly confused about why God chose Paul in particular to be healed, when it was well known that Paul persecuted early Christians. God tells Ananias that Paul has been chosen to use his abilities in public speaking to proclaim God’s name to communities far and wide.

Despite Paul being a leading candidate for a good ol’ Old Testament-style smiting by an angry and wrathful God, something amazing happens: Paul is seen by God exactly for who he is, not who society expects him to be. When Paul talks about there no longer being Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free, he isn’t saying that our individuality is to be erased. I think he is saying that recognizing our God-given strengths and abilities frees us from feeling like we need to base our worth on what society deems acceptable. Instead of being restricted under the law, we are meant to be defined through Christ who not only sees us as worthy of love, but who celebrates us each as unique children of God.

About a year ago, I was going through an emotional rough patch and decided to voluntarily do the Sacrament of Confession with my rector. I survived – barely – but it was really our conversation after that I remember the most. We discussed worth: specifically, if I saw myself as worthy of God’s love or not. It pains me to say that at the time, I did not, even though I was slowly beginning to untangle my emotional knots.

I realized through our conversation that there is nothing I can do to make myself more worthy of God’s love. There are no worksheets I can do (much to my eternal frustration). I am just radically loved and accepted by God. Period. Isn’t that just a little bit terrifying? It was scary for me to learn about how worthy I was because it meant that I needed to take a long, hard look at where I was not being valued in my life by others but most importantly, by myself. It also meant that I had to look at where I had fallen into the traps of believing that my worth was based solely on society’s expectations for me.

Today is the celebration of the Ordination of Florence Li Tim-Oi, the first woman to be ordained in the Anglican Communion. Her ministry as a Deaconess throughout World War II came to the attention of Bishop Ronald Hall of Hong Kong who recognized her spiritual gifts and thought that the title of Priest would aid her work. When the war ended, she decided not to exercise her priesthood until it was recognized by the Anglican Communion but did serve as the rector of Saint Barnabas Church in Hepu. When all churches were closed during the Cultural Revolution, Florence was required to undergo political re-education and worked in both a farm and a factory. She was allowed to retire in 1974 and continued her ministry when churches re-opened a few years later. In 1981, she was licensed as a priest in the Diocese of Montreal and eventually in the Diocese of Toronto, where she retired until her death.

Florence recognized the gifts that she could bring to her ministry which went against the societal and religious laws of her day. That takes a lot of courage. Even the Bishop, who did not approve of the ordination of women like many others of his time, could not deny the power of Florence’s calling. Still today, it seems as though we live in a society that expects people – especially women – to diminish our gifts and talents and to blend in with the standards that are imposed upon us. It is difficult to throw off societal expectations and step into our God-given potential because it means that we are no longer defined by a cookie-cutter-label or package. Instead, we are defined by how God sees us: someone who is complex and dynamic, who has a deep well of spiritual gifts, and who is worthy of love.

Paul knew from firsthand experience that we cannot control how we are loved and seen by God. When Paul writes about finding freedom in Christ he isn’t speaking in metaphor – for him, it was personal. Our freedom comes not from following society’s exhausting and ever-changing checklist of standards we can never achieve anyway, but from knowing that we are worthy of love simply because we were created as unique individuals by God. I was going to offer a suggestion on how we can realize that we are worthy of God’s love, but honestly? I don’t think I have to. You are enough, just as you are.



Seattle, City of learning experiences

It’s been a while! I’ll be honest, sometimes I just come home and collapse into my bed after my day is done. I am often so tired, but at the same time, I feel completely alive.

For those that might have missed the update, I moved to Seattle in September to live in intentional community with the Seattle Service Corps and work for 10 months with the non-profit Mission to the Seafarers.

So far, Seattle has been a city of learning experiences: I have had to dive in to Port Chaplaincy, something that I learned I love but had never done before. I had to learn how to drive a. confidently, and b. around a new city with c. terrible traffic. I can say that I know my way around much better now, and I am a much better driver than when I started! I am so proud of myself for learning a new skill that not only benefits my job, but also the rest of my life. I thought I’d never be able to drive skillfully, and yet here I am. This was a huge hurdle for the first month and a half, but I have learned that even though the anxiety is still there, I had the courage to try and that is what is most important.

my first ever ship visit!

Almost every day, I go on board the cargo and container ships that come into the Port of Seattle. I sell SIM cards, provide transportation, and interact with people all over the world on a daily basis. I love chaplaincy; I love hearing people’s stories and being able to give them things that will make their lives better on an immediate basis. We can’t always do this, of course, but I love being able to provide the services that can ease a little bit of worry over whether or not a seafarer can talk to their family, or buy the things they need for themselves or the ship.

I have also been learning how to live in intentional community. I didn’t even know what that meant, really, before coming here. Now, I live with four (formerly five) unique souls and somehow, we all make it work just by loving each other and being ourselves. I love going into the kitchen and living area and being able to tell someone about my day and hear about theirs. I love seeing my house grow in their discernment and know that they support my decisions as well. I love seeing how everyone has grown into their work placements and that they see that I’ve grown into mine.

the beautiful, wonderful, amazing souls that make up my community

I am learning what it means to lean into my faith. I’ve been surprised that even though I am part of the St. Mark’s community, I have had to figure out what I specifically need to grow in my faith and to voice those needs or to fulfill them myself. I’ve been consistently surprised at how I actually crave more opportunities to live my faith, and that my relationship with God is being established almost independently of any church. I love church, and church provides a structure that helps me figure out where I am in my faith journey, but I am also learning to trust myself and my faith needs.

I’ve only been here two months, but I have already seen myself grow. Over the remaining eight, I hope to be accepted to graduate school, continue to learn my own value as a person, and learn to listen to my anxiety but not let it control me. I’m so grateful to have the space to do this with my work, and my community.



I always wondered when my life would start. Many people have nostalgia about being a kid, but I don’t. I don’t have memories of long summer days swimming, or going to the park, or going camping with my family. When I was a kid, there was nothing I wanted more than to be an adult, and here I am.

I turn 26 today, and I finally feel as though my life has started over the past year. I think in some ways, not having as much nostalgia about childhood has made me more content because I feel very much like my life can only keep going up and up from here. I’m slowly carving out my space, my joy, my passions with intention and with determination.

I’ve spent a large part of this year discerning where I want to be (not in Massachusetts anymore) and what I want to do (help people…but beyond that it’s unclear). But you know what? That was more than I had last year.

In my 25th year, I took charge of my health in more ways than one – I started going to doctor’s appointments consistently and by myself. I got an IUD after doing the research on my own. I started going to therapy and coming to terms with my trauma and my own narrative as the child of an alcoholic.

I applied to job after job starting in the fall, and got a few interviews but no offers. I became increasingly discouraged and started thinking that if administrative work isn’t what I want to do, then I’d better take steps to move in a direction that feels more true to me – so I did.

I decided to move to Seattle and will be relocating in September (I’m so excited holy moly). I think this opportunity will give me a lot of time for discernment and being surrounded in a holy and loving and supportive environment. I’m excited to see my placement and how I can best use my gifts and talents to serve.

I started going to swing dancing more consistently (even though going by myself is still hard and kinda scary!) and it’s brought so much joy into my life I’m not even sure what to do with it.

I’m finally (like within the past couple of weeks finally) having some huge mental shifts about how to be gentle with myself, and love myself, and finally, finally realizing what I deserve. I’m working on making sure that these changes come from the inside, so that if something external changes, I don’t lose the progress I’ve made in all of my hard inner work.

I can’t wait to see what this year holds.



Things I’ve learned from swing dancing

Image result for swing dancing

I went to my first swing dance a little over a year ago as part of a free program with Art Week Boston. I had never swing danced before, but it was a free dance in South Station so I figured I’d try it! For months after, I couldn’t stop thinking about how fun it was, so I signed up for a beginner swing dance “boot camp”. Then I went to a Friday night dance at one of the swing studios in the Cambridge area. And then, I started going consistently to free social dances this summer with a friend who is now super into it. My only regret? That I didn’t start going consistently sooner!

I’m still a beginner, mostly, but I’ve learned some valuable lessons so far (that are OF COURSE a metaphor for life:

1. It’s worth it to take the plunge

As I mentioned, I wish I had started going to social dances earlier because it just gives me so much joy. I was scared of going by myself, but lots of people are there by themselves and they have a great time – and so can I. When I move this fall to a new city, I’m going work to get as involved as possible with the swing community (to the extent that my program will allow me), even if I have to go by myself.

2. I can be both a leader and a follower

It’s not uncommon in the dance scene for people to switch “roles” and for women to lead dances (and it also makes it a safer and more comfortable space for the LGBTQ and non-binary communities). I didn’t want to do this for a while, because I wanted to learn and also because I just like to relax when I dance, but I recently was a lead and it was actually…okay. I kinda liked it, even though I  had to do everything the opposite from how I learned it. I can do both. I can be both.

3. I can let go

Partner dancing is a constant exercise in letting go of control, something I am notoriously bad at. Like, so bad. But! Swing dance is helping me work on it because it is teaching me to trust my partner and also to focus on myself. All I need to do is get from point A to point B, and not worry about what my partner is doing – they will let me know. Also, sometimes all I need is a gentle push in the right direction and I’ll get where I need to go – eventually, and maybe a little bit off the beat. 😉

4. I can trust myself

Although swing dance is absolutely an exercise in letting go of control, there are sometimes where I’ve realized that I am right, maybe in terms of steps or musicality or following the beat. I can stand up for myself and say, “no, this is how you do this step”, and I’m realizing that sometimes it’s not me that’s a bad dancer, it may be my partner who isn’t being the best leader they could be. I often shift blame onto myself, so this has been a fantastic way to learn that sometimes I really truly am doing the right thing.

5. I can say no

I don’t often turn down dances (because I looooooveeee it), but there may be a time when I just don’t want to dance, and that’s ok. I can say no, and I should say no if I’m not feeling it or if I’m tired or if the person is creepy. It is important to me and my space to say no.

6. I can be rejected and the world won’t end

Friends, I remember how it felt when I asked someone to dance and they said no. I thought “what did I do wrong??” but honestly, it probably wasn’t about me. Maybe they were tired. Maybe they sit out every other dance like I often do to get some water and catch their breath. Since then, I’ve definitely been turned down and I’m still here. It’s absolutely ok to be rejected.

Going swing dancing is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself – and I can’t wait to find a community of my own to be a part of in the future!



The things I can control & not leading with fear

I recently got some bad news that I can’t go into details about yet, until I have some more information, but it made me start to think about what I can and can’t control.

Control has always been a big aspect of my life. Growing up with an alcoholic parent, I often felt like my world was out of control and I know that some of my anxiety disorder is due at least in part to my uncontrolled environment. I like control. I like controlling myself, my emotions, my body, my surroundings, and often other people. I’m working on all of these things, especially my relationship with my body in recent weeks (maybe more on that in another post). I’ve realized more and more that I can’t control the situations around me but I can control how I react to them and that I can give myself time and space and resources to feel what I need to feel, process, and work on how I will get through a tough scenario.

Here’s what I can control:

-My compassion towards myself

-My healthy habits – eating in a compassionate and healthful and balanced way

-Reaching out for resources when I need them; through my therapist, online communities, and my church.

-The words that I say to myself and others

-How I let a situation define me

What I can’t control:

-How other people react

-What other people in a situation will do to deal with it

-Difficulties or issues along the way

I have realized that my first reaction to many different scenarios is often fear. I definitely think my control issues stem out of fear and an uncertainty about how a situation is going to unfold. I expect the worst and sometimes don’t take chances because I’m worried about something that hasn’t happened yet.

I want to be done with that. I’m done with thinking I don’t deserve good things and that the worst is going to happen. I want to live my life to the fullest and not use fear as an excuse not to do things or not to be open with people and relationships.

We don’t have to lead with fear or expect the worst. It is important to be cautious, of course, because not everybody has good intentions, but what I mean is that I don’t want to disregard someone or a situation before it even comes to be. I want to take chances and be open and love myself and the world.