First Unitarian Church of Providence
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Wholly Family, 2016
A multigenerational worship lead by Cathy Seggal, presented at the First Unitarian Church in Providence, RI, February 21, 2016

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I am proud to present this congregation’s 16th Wholly Family Service. Over the years, we have honored and celebrated diverse family patterns in order to appreciate the unique beauty of each. In sharing our family sto-ries, we have the opportunity to know one another better, our differences become opening doors to friendship and respect for all families. This year, we focus on transitions and transformations, in keeping with February’s theme. I’d like to ask you all, do you ever feel like your family is different? I sure do.

The word family is one way to define a unit in our society. Family is where we long to be at home. It’s a place where we count on sharing whatever is on the table and where someone might even laugh at our jokes. Family can be the center to which we return, whether deserved or not. When some of us hear the word, "family" we feel pain or anger. For some, there is a sense of happiness. For most, there is some combination of a variety of emotions.

Families of origin or birth are not always the families where we feel most at peace. We come from them, yet go out into the world to form families of our own. We have deemed our next door neighbors, “family by choice,” and share most big occasions with them.

Over time, any of us may evolve our own vision of family. In one lifetime we may become part of several different kinds of families. We may be a single person family, with or without a pet. We may be a couple, married or not. Our goal today is that we all focus on what our families HAVE rather than on what is missing. Family life patterns overflow with transitions - birth, death, relocation, partnership, separation, career ups and downs, school changes, grieving, new friendships and more. Nobody ever said that this is easy. Support from others can help.

In a healthy, mentoring, religious community, we have the responsibility & the privilege to acknowledge and affirm one another's lives, to know each others’ stories. To promise to search for meaning in all of it - together.

Every family, formed with love and commitment, deserves nurture and respect. Each is a sacred circle, inter-secting with others. We lift up just a few family units today.

Before we continue, I'd like to speak with children who are here. If you have a family, would you please drum your hands on your lap. Please listen to these family stories. When you hear something that makes you think of your own family please drum again.

Now, several folks will generously share a piece of their narrative. After each family speaks, in place of applause Marcia will lead us in a chant with these words: “We honor your family. We bless your family”

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Hi, I am Stu Carr and this is my daughter, Riley. We would like to share with you the story of our family. Fifteen years ago, I met Donna. Donna was a single mother raising five children and working full time as a medical assistant. Donna and I started dating. To make a long story short, we fell in love, and eventually we became a family. Donna and I and her two youngest children, Andrew and his sister, Jordan. Shortly afterward, Donna gave birth to our daughter, Riley. For the next five years, this was our family: Donna, myself, Andrew, Jordan, Riley and Buffy (our yellow lab).

In august of 2008, Donna was diagnosed with cancer. The following February, Donna passed away. Suddenly and tragically, we became a family of four: Myself, Andrew Jordan, Riley and our dog Buffy. Shortly after Donna died, Andrew moved to Florida to live with Donna’s father. In June of 2009, Jordan graduated from high school. Eventually, Jordan moved with her boyfriend to Virginia.

So, for approximately the past seven years, our family has consisted of me and Riley. During these past seven years, our family has had many transitions and transformations: Our dog, Buffy passed away and we adopted our cat Luna from a local animal shelter. Riley finished five years at our local elementary school and now is in her second year of middle school. I joined this church and Riley has been in the R.E. program since the second grade.

My role as a father has had may transformations. When Donna was alive, Donna and I worked as partners in the day to day business of maintaining a family and raising the children. Most decisions were made together. Each of us brought our own specialties into the family that made the family work well.

After Donna died, that role changed. I no longer had that partner to make decisions with. For example, I had to decide where Riley was going to go for day care. I had to decide what I was going to feed Riley. I had to make decisions about all those basic needs, but most importantly, I had to decide how Riley was going to be raised. I came to the conclusion that from thad day forward, I was going to be there for Riley as much as I could be. You see, Riley lost her mother, but I didn't want her to grow up without her father.

For the past seven years, Riley and I have been very active. We like to go skiing, we bike ride local bike paths, we hike local woods and nature preserves. We love to go to the beach in the summer. We frequent local art, science and history museums. We like to travel throughout New England. In late December, we travel to Illinois to visit with my parents and brothers and sisters.

Another transformation occurred about the time Riley started the second grade, I came to realization that I couldn’t raise Riley alone, and that I needed help teaching her about spirituality and social responsibility. The is the reason I discovered and joined this church. It really does take “take a village” to raise a child. So I would include this church as a member of our family.

I also have to mention another member of our family: My cousin and nearby neighbor, Raylene. She has al-ways been there on school vacation and snow days to help with the care of Riley. Thank you for listening to this glimpse into our family.


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We are Carson, Kelley, and Sam. We are a student, a health researcher, a nurse. A runner, a writer, a baker. A kung fu artist, a singer, a carpenter. A family.

Kelley and I first met in the early 1990s at the Newport Folk Festival, and started dating senior year at college. We have been living together since 1997, and have been legally married since October 2006.

When we first wanted to become parents, we weren’t sure how to go about it. But thanks to a wonderful man named Jesse, whom Carson knows as “Daddy,” Kelley became pregnant, and after an uneventful pregnancy, Carson was born in March of 2004.

Yet the first month of her life was surprisingly rough. The birth plan hadn’t gone according to plan. Although Carson was born full-term, she had severe meconium aspiration syndrome and spent her first 30 days in the neonatal intensive care unit, first learning to breathe on her own and then learning to eat. This was our first real lesson in the unpredictability of life and the great leap of faith that is parenthood: there is much beyond our control, despite our best intentions.

But then for a few years we settled into a normal family routine, shuttling between daycare and preschool and work and home and Mathewson Street United Methodist Church. I started a career as a contractor after several previous careers including teaching and arts administration. Kelley earned a Masters in Public Health while working full time for Brown. Carson grew from a baby in daycare to a toddler to a precocious preschooler, nurtured by caregivers, friends, and extended family.

In 2010, we wanted a new challenge, and decided to move to American Samoa, a speck of an island in the South Pacific, for Kelley to manage a diabetes research project on behalf of Brown, an experience that taught us every day about what healthcare is like in less developed settings. Carson entered first grade in a class where she was the only US-born student, and quickly became the school hula hoop champion. I took a job teaching but baked bread and built furniture on the side – informal businesses that paid better than teaching. Life felt easy, full of snorkeling and fresh tropical fruit, and the challenges we faced were often those of puzzlement in a new culture: why were the neighbor kids drinking cans of Coke at 7:00 am and staring in our windows? Why did you need a hard copy of your social security card to get a library card?

Then paradise was lost, so to speak. In October of 2010 Kelley had a seizure at work, and ten days later, once she was finally able to get a CT scan, it revealed something suspicious on her right frontal lobe. Thanks to Brown’s emergency medical evacuation plan, we were all escorted to Auckland, NZ, where an MRI revealed a sizable brain tumor.

I decided to stay in New Zealand for surgery and treatment for a number of reasons – superb healthcare first and foremost, but also because it would allow us more time in the southern hemisphere and the Pacific. Kindly acquaintances helped us find a sunny little apartment on Auckland’s North Shore, and despite the circumstances that brought us there - and more than a few moments of existential dread, we really enjoyed ourselves, exploring vineyards and parks and beaches and marveling at Kiwi generosity.

When the time came for me to start radiation, we asked Carson’s dad Jesse to come to NZ so that he could drive me to daily treatments – while Sam and Carson returned to American Samoa for Sam to take over my job. Jesse was in transition himself, having just left a long-term partner, a job, and a city. Sam and I Skyped every day about work, and although we were apart, we did our best to maintain our family relationships across 1800 miles of open ocean.

After I was done with treatments, it was time for us to bid farewell to the South Pacific. I arrived home first, followed a couple of weeks later by Sam and Carson – while Jesse now took over the diabetes research job in American Samoa. The four of us will always be bound by the strength we found in each other during a period in our lives that was by turns dark and incredibly life-affirming. Sam’s twin experiences of working in island health care that was more MASH outpost than integrated system, and witnessing my excellent care in NZ, led her to pursue nursing as a new career. She earned a BSN last summer and in December started work as an RN at Newport Hospital.

We joined First U about a year after returning from the South Pacific at a time in our lives when we did not have a clear idea of what came next, but knew we wanted a spiritual community that truly supported all of us. Sam has been active in the Monday night Zen group. She and Carson help with Neighborhood Social Justice Committee, Carson enjoys the RE program and Joyful Noise, and I am a part of Community Band and Worship Committee.

Five years after our adventures in the southern hemisphere, we are grateful for health and the communities that love and support us – we have a wide network of family, friends, and colleagues. We do our best as two working moms to make time just for our family, going out for Chinese food, watching Carson compete at kung fu tournaments or cross-country meets, and continuing to travel. We know that life can be unpredictable, but we are also confident that we can face transitions and challenges together.
Thank you.