Saturday, June 3, 2017

Singing For the Belly Dancers

I did something tonight I haven't done for years.  I sang and played the guitar at a once-a-month-downtown-stays-up-late event called First Friday.  I set up in my old place, but other than the buildings looking the same, it wasn't anything like it used to be.  Now, there's an approval process, obtaining and posting your permit, snow cones, kettle corn, clowns, musicians scattered about, and lots and lots of people.

As I continually discern God's will for my life, I consistently have the feeling that music is supposed to be part of what I'm doing.  But, it is so easy to talk myself out of it.  I keep asking myself, "Can a simple girl like me, singing simple songs, with a simple guitar played very simply, really glorify the Lord?  I'm sure the answer is yes.  At least I'm sure in my head.  Or is it in my heart that I'm sure?  I'm not really sure where I'm sure, I guess.  But, I'm pretty sure.

When you're only one person and you can't agree with yourself, I think it is important to make an effort to stay as objective as possible.  To that end, I've kept a little book for several months now of reasons I should keep singing.  It starts with a note to myself, and is slowly being filled with encouragement to praise God, for as many reasons as there are ways.

                                                         


With the exception of one entry, it is all Scripture.  The exception is pretty exceptional, though, and my mind returns to it often.

When we sing, we repossess some of the Eden that we lost when Adam fell...Music stirs our hearts and engages our souls in ways we can't describe.  When this happens, we are taken beyond our earthly banishment back to the divine melody Adam knew when he sang with the angels, when he was whole in God, before his exile...the devil...forever plots how to make humanity stop singing...The devil wants to thwart confession, stop forgiveness, and silence our songs of praise, because they frighten him.  
-St. Hildegard of Bingen

And so, I sing.  Opportunities come up here and there, things go well, and momentum builds.  And instead of just accepting opportunities that come, you start looking for them.  And you end up at First Friday, because you can and it's free.



And you come without a microphone or amplifier because you can't remember if you need all of that. You don't have it anyway, so going without makes a lot of sense.  The open parking spot, a stone's throw from where I was supposed to set up, was a sure sign of God's providence.  With my first tune underway, I noticed some activity across the street.  A sound check was proof their amplifier was working.  The shimmery skirts, bare midriffs, and cameras were working, too.

Oh, man.  Maybe I was a little premature about crediting providence for my parking spot, because I was pretty sure this wasn't where I wanted to be.  Do you know that feeling when a beautiful girl walks in the room and you go from feeling normal/great/beautiful to ugly?  Blech.  Have you seen Monsters Inc.?  I felt like Randy, the purple chameleon, blending into the wall of the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store.

How those girls have that kind of courage and move like that, I have no earthly idea.  Sheesh!  No wonder Herod offered half his kingdom! I'm pretty sure it was after watching something like this.  And I had to submit a video to make sure my music was family-friendly?!

So much for repossessing some of Eden before Adam fell.  I think he fell a bunch of times tonight.

And there I was, moving in and out of invisibility, wondering where I misunderstood what God was asking of me.  Until friends showed up.  And show up they did, in a steady trickle throughout the two-and-a-half hours I was there.  A pleasant surprise, every one of them.  In those moments, I felt like maybe I hadn't gotten it all wrong.


I was really grateful for those moments, too, because there were others that were as cringe-worthy as the friend-moments were terrific.  Like when the guy on a bicycle parked two feet from my face and told me I needed a pick, smack in the middle of nailing Amazing Grace.  Or when the little boy looked in my guitar case and said, "You only have one dollar in there.  We saw another guy who had a $20 bill in his."  And later, "You only have two dollars in there."  If only I needed an accountant.

His report got me thinking, though.  Either they're being very generous "over there", or I must suck, or he put that money in there himself.  This made me consider putting some of my own money in, to encourage other people to put their money in, but even the thought made me feel kind of sleazy.

So, I played until my fingers rebelled and my pride was begging me to go.  I laid my guitar on top of the four dollars in my case and saw somebody approaching out of the corner of my eye.  It was one of the belly dancers.  She introduced herself by saying, "We were across the street."  I wanted to laugh out loud.  I'm pretty sure everyone knew where they were.  I certainly did.  She offered me a dollar tip for my beautiful music and a sweet apology for their music being a little loud.  I was as charmed as I was flabbergasted.

It is easy to equate stares and applause with being observed, and assume that if we don't see ourselves being observed, then we're not being observed!  I would have bet any amount of money they neither saw nor heard me.  It's a good thing I didn't.

And that's the thing.  You just don't know.

So, you dance like nobody's watching, and you sing like you're in the Garden of Eden, and you beg God for the courage to do it again, and get chicken strips and an icy Coke on the way home because you're proud of yourself for trying, even if it wasn't anything at all like what you imagined it would be, and you're glad it's over, and you've been reminded that friends and carbonated drinks make everything better.    


 
  

Monday, May 29, 2017

Day After Day, Week After Week, Month After Month, Year After Year...

I finished a book today that I bought four years ago for my husband.  It was recommended by a beloved priest then, and again last week by my spiritual director.  


It reminded me of something I used to know and how it inspired me when I learned of it, and motivated me to practice it consciously, at least for a little while.

The vision of the kingdom, the call of Christ to labor and suffer with him, has overtones of a great and noble crusade - yet we must each of us translate that vision and retain that spirit in the routine, humdrum events of every day...one day at a time, frustrated and perhaps discouraged, each twenty-four hours filled with as many defeats and frustrations as victories, each hour made up of sixty minutes of humdrum things and little people busy and concerned about many other things, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year...

...Each day, every day of our lives, God presents to us the people and opportunities upon which he expects us to act.  He expects no more of us, but he will accept nothing less of us; and we fail in our promise and commitment if we do not see in the situations of every moment of every day as his divine will...

I simply cannot be reminded of this enough.  Brother Lawrence in the The Practice of the Presence of God and Fr. Jean Pierre de Caussade in Abandonment to Divine Providence have been two great teachers for me on the subject.  But, I read them so long ago, and had forgotten, again.  So, thank you, Fr. Walter Ciszek for reminding me, yet again, to celebrate the sacrament of the present moment!  

Wrapping up Memorial weekend and kicking off a summer with boys ushers in a lot of memorable moments...
Like trying to build a hobbit house under a trampoline

Hanging out with friends and explosives
Launching a cardboard paratrooper from a rooftop

Shooting an AR-15
Fishing, again.
And finding a little beauty in a fungus for me, in the middle of all this boy stuff
And these are just from the last two days.  But, I know there are exponentially more unphotographed and unrecognized moments than photographed and fully present ones.  That's okay.  It will always be that way.  But, the gap doesn't have to retain its seismic features.  I can close it, little by little.  Not by taking more pictures, but by being present and remembering, believing that the details are the expressed work of God.  

This is not easy, but for me, very worthwhile.  If I can work to believe that God is at work in my life (because, sometimes it is work), all of the moments that come to us, come with their own sense of peace and joy.  People, places, inconveniences, and drastic changes in the plan can be received with new energy and acceptance when considered as the will of God, hand-delivered.  

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!  
Mark 9:24
   

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Fish, The Calendar, and The Hood - Happy Mother's Day!

Mother's Day is upon us and I have to admit I always feel a little giddy when it rolls around.  I know it's going to be a good day, for sure.  Because, along with my birthday, it is one of two days out of the year I don't cook and I don't feel guilty about not cooking.  Cards?  Probably.  Gifts?  Probably not. Not cooking?  Definitely.  Every time.  Happy Mother's Day to me...

Today, motherhood looked like this.


I caught this catfish.  It bit my bait on my line on my fishing pole and I reeled it in until it was completely out of the water and laying on the sidewalk.  My son told me to text the picture to my husband and tell him he caught it.  I texted the picture, but didn't write anything.  My  husband assumed my son caught it.  I was going to let that ride.  At least until we got home.

But, then.  Then my son, who prides himself on being a fisherman, told a fellow fisherman that he technically caught it, because he saw it first.  Oh, no.  Nope.  This was the biggest fish I've ever caught in my life. So, today, motherhood was a little private conversation in hushed tones about not taking credit for things you don't earn and giving credit where credit was due, and "You're not the only person who can catch a fish around here."

Yet another picture perfect example of feeling like a great parent and a jerk all at the same time.  Say cheese.

Not long ago, there was another conversation.  This one was about basketball and the place it holds in a person's life.  This "game" was soiling attitudes, self-image, brotherhood, motherhood, and annihilating character like no game ever should.  So, this mother painted a pretty good picture of a basketball-less life and closed the conversation with a fiery ceremony burning all of the negativity written down (as an I'll-be-waiting-for-you-to-show-it-to-me-when-you're-finished-assignment), up.  Burned it up.  For real.

Haven't heard one negative comment since.

I heard once, that convincing your kids that you're crazy, can encourage obedience and good behavior.  They don't know what that one thing is, that is going to make you crack.  I think it's working.

Also working, is this...


This is the fruit of my silent retreat this year.  Intentionality.  Each day of the week, every week of the year, one of my guy's names is written down.  That is my cue to make an effort to engage with them for at least 15 minutes, in a way that makes them happy.  

This was going along beautifully, and unannounced, for about a month.  Then, one of the boys saw my calendar.  Hey!  Why is each of our names written down on your calendar?  I explained.  

Word traveled fast.  It's been several months now, and talk about accountability.  Sheesh!  "Mom, whose special day is it today?"  It's 9:00pm.  "Umm, it's yours, but since it's so late, let's do it tomorrow and I'll double your time."  Say cheese.

It's eye-opening to see who always gets their time, on time, and who often gets overlooked.  Gotta be careful about those "easy" ones!  They just don't demand much, and can slip through without a lot of fuss.  Yikes.  Accountability might be just the thing. 

But, kids and husbands aren't the only ones who get overlooked.  I just realized (and we're a couple of months in, here) that my name is not on my calendar.  What was I thinking?!  There's nothing like celebrating Mother's Day to encourage a little self-care.  Next year, for sure.  It's not like anyone else has a calendar with my name on it.  Next year.  Hold me to it, will you?

If you know me, you know I love quotes.  I only have one quote about motherhood, but it is definitely my favorite.  And not just because it was my son who said it.  Or because I know what it means. Even after trying to get him to explain, I'm still not sure.   

Rough, with walls filled with drawings done when no one was looking and difficult to escape?  
If so, I think he nailed it.

"Motherhood is like any other kind of hood."  



Happy Mother's Day from the Hood!
(whatever that means...)



Sunday, April 30, 2017

Tree of Hope - A Lesson in Adaptation

Late last week, we traveled to San Antonio for our nephew's graduation from Air Force boot camp. Since my Facebook account is deactivated, I was doing what people used to do in the car - Looking out the window.  And I saw this:


And I exclaimed.  But, by the time everybody else looked up, our minivan traveling 75mph, was too far past for anyone else to see.  We took note of the upcoming intersection and surrounding landmarks, so we could stop and get a good look on our way home the next day.  And we did, which is when this picture was taken.

It took me awhile to put words to what my soul already seemed to know and understand.  The words sound like they're coming right off the page of a Marine's combat manual...Adapt and overcome.

I felt proud of this tree and grateful to it for teaching me its secrets, hard-won.  

I thought about which came first, the chicken or the egg.  The fence or the tree.  I don't know for sure, and I'm not sure it matters, but I bet it was the tree.  And if so, there was obviously no parent tree around to settle the age-old "I was here first!" argument. And so it grew, in spite of having been there first.

It grew and grew, and it leaned just a little with the weight of the seasons.  One day, it noticed something unlike itself.  Something hard.  Something uncomfortable.  Something immovable.  

Incapable of running away, the tree had to choose between giving up or pressing on.


It pressed on.  But, not just on.  Around.  Around that thing that made it so uncomfortable. Completely around that thing.


And now that thing is a part of itself.  

Maybe the strongest part, as a friend pointed out...  

How long do you think that would take, my son asked?  I don't know, son.  I really don't know. Probably a long time.  Seems to be a tree thing.

But, for people, there are a lot of hard things in life and fences are the least-hard of all.  

ALS, cancer, losing someone you love and feel lost without, struggling with depression, alcoholism, being laid off, and sometimes, just getting through an ordinary day in an ordinary life.  These are some of the fences in the lives of people I love.  And these are just a few.

They look very different from one another, but they're very much the same.  They're hard, uncomfortable, and not going anywhere any time soon.   

Take heart, my friends.  
The tree knows best.  
When even one day at a time is too much... 
lean on the fence, 
and rest.  

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Cutting the Facebook String and Flying Free

I deactivated my Facebook account four days ago, right after I left my weekly holy hour.  It was an hour of realizations.  During this hour, I was reading a book, and I realized how much I was enjoying reading and being fed by the content of its pages.  I also realized that I don't read at all like I used to, which was a lot.  I also realized that the reason for this is Facebook.  Every free 5 or 10 or 15 minutes was consumed by consumption of social media.

I've known this for a long time, of course.  My awareness of it was never more evident than when I found myself envious of the people I visited in the nursing home.  Envious of the time they haven't wasted on Facebook, and the pressure they don't feel to post pictures of their last Bingo game and their family and friends during their visit on Sunday.

During my hour in the chapel, I felt like God handed me the grace I have been praying for (for about a month), to detach from the world, except to engage it for His glory.  I can't describe the freedom I feel.  But, if you are a frequent Facebook visitor, my guess is that you can understand.

Over the years since I established an account on Facebook, it has been a love/hate relationship, at best.  When it has come up in conversation, it sounds like this is how it is for most of the people I know.  There are lots of reasons for this, and some are different than mine.  But, for me, it was like always being tied to something by a string of varying strength.  It was always pulling on me.

Apparently, FOMO is a real thing for kids these days.  Fear of missing out.  I don't think this describes my tied-by-a-string-sensation, but I think vanity and social responsibility do.  I didn't want to overlook or ignore any possible attempts to receive feedback, respond, share, or engage with my 500-something friends in a meaningful way.  But, curiosity moves in quickly once the scrolling begins, and who knows how many minutes have passed, or what life I have missed in my own living room...

Did you get that gift from Facebook at the end of last year?  The one that showed all of your friends, how many items you liked, etc...?  I was horrified.  Did you notice what they didn't include?  The hours you spent on Facebook.  Good move.  

In addition to being a "time suck", as one of my favorite friends calls it, another problem for me, is that Facebook feeds my temptation to let other people's opinions, comments, and likes influence my opinion of myself.  Not good.  And it keeps me in the center of my world.

I don't want to be the center of my world.

John, the beloved disciple, writes of the Pharisees, "for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God."  In the same Gospel, Jesus says, "How can you believe who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?"

Ummmm...  I don't know?

My most recent Facebook flurry was the posting of a slew of pictures from an incredible Spring Break trip with my family to Big Bend State Park.  I don't know how much time I spent selecting pictures from all that were taken, later deciding which ones should be on my profile, wishing my husband had tagged me in his pictures, because those were different than the ones I posted, and so on.

Later, I was thinking about all of the people who didn't go anywhere on Spring Break.  I was thinking how they might already be feeling badly about not going anywhere.  Especially, if they wanted to.  I would have.  I remember being at home many a Memorial Day, sad, because I knew I should be lakeside, having a picnic somewhere!  And, not that we're responsible for how other people feel about what happens in our life, but I felt sad anyway, thinking that my Spring Break pictures could have been salt in a wound for somebody who was already feeling crappy.  Blech.

So, with these realizations and the gift of answered prayer, I am free.

Now, without Facebook, my phone is for talking, checking texts and emails, googling stuff, looking up the daily Gospel readings, listening to music, and tuning my guitar.  That's it!  HOO and RAY!!!

In the last four days, I've finished one book and am well into another one.  I actually used my phone to call someone (my brother to see if he would send me a picture of his new puppy).  That wouldn't have happened before - my brain and time would have been too clogged with all of the stuff of Facebook.  And I probably could have caught a glimpse of that puppy somewhere on his timeline, anyway.  It is good not to know everything, all of the time.  It forces being personal and intentional. Both good things in my world.






'The soul that is attached to anything however much good there may be in it will not arrive at the liberty of divine union. For whether it be a strong wire rope or a slender and delicate thread that holds the bird, it matters not, if it really holds it fast; for until the cord be broken the bird cannot fly.'
St. John of the Cross



Sunday, March 19, 2017

This Side of the Rio Grande

We got home tonight after spending four days and four nights camping at Big Bend Ranch State Park.  This park is in the southern most part of Texas, butting right up to the Rio Grande River, the border between the United States and Mexico.  The park continues in beauty and grandeur on the other side, of course, but it is called by another name there.

Our campsite was about 100 yards away from the river and 25 miles away from the main entrance. With only these two pieces of information in mind, I milled around with an uncharacteristic sense of foreboding for a couple of days, as I did my little part in getting things ready to go.  For all I knew, it seemed like the perfect recipe for disaster - being so close to the border, and so far from help.

But, my spirits started to lift the closer we got, and eventually, I figured if we were all going to die out there, it would probably be best not to ruin our last earthly memories with a bad mood.  So, my husband pitched our tent, I put the rug out, and we called it home.  And it was breathtaking.

I could bore you with pictures for days, but I'll just share this one, because it's really the point, here.


I didn't see this particular sign until Day 3, but we were warned verbally and in writing that the price was high for crossing the river, if you were caught.  This rule, like everything else around, took its turn at looming large.  

Just like a little kid who is told she can go anywhere but over there,  I couldn't stop thinking about being in this 300,000 acre place, hemmed in by a river I couldn't cross.  And I couldn't cross it for no reason other than...it's not fair.  Because the people from the other side of the river aren't allowed to cross it.

Which got me thinking...about "those" people.  Those people I was afraid of, walking through our campsite, needing our stuff - maybe badly enough to hurt us.  Those people who are tempted to cross their country's shallow-river-border, not because the sign says not to, but for a chance to live where they can find work, or safety, or education, or opportunities to pursue their dreams.     

And I felt sad for them, and foolish, and like a jerk for having been afraid.  

Pulling into the mandatory border patrol check on our way home, my youngest son tried to hide under his blanket. We answered quickly and confidently that all of our passengers were U.S. citizens and we were bid a good day.  I wondered how many little boys have passed through that same checkpoint, or others like it, hiding under blankets with their hearts in their throats. 

I'm not a politician and I don't have an immigration policy, but I know that compassion needs to be the foundation.  It's not black and white and walls.  It's people.  People born on the other side of a river, which in many places, is no wider than the street you live on.   

*I wrote some song lyrics about this at our campsite, but didn't have a guitar or melody.  So, my 8-year-old helped me record the words down at the river, where it (and this post) was inspired.  You can join me there, here.  

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Doing Your Beautiful Thing

It is astounding how much you can learn when you aren't using words.  In the silence of my weekend retreat, I learned something about myself.  And maybe something about you, but I'll stick with the safer of the two, for now. 

On Thursday, before my retreat began, my guitar teacher published a very first audio/video recording of me singing and playing the guitar, under the heading, "Student of the Month".  If we are friends on Facebook, you were probably one of the nice people who said nice things.  Thank you.  

As I went into the weekend after my "reveal", I was acutely aware of how vulnerable I felt. During the retreat, I led the songs for each of the Masses, and afterward, was acutely aware of my mistakes and my vulnerability (again).  

A little over halfway into the retreat, considering what this vulnerability was really about, I came to a conclusion, and wrote it exactly this way:  I inherently believe in my value as a caregiver/nurturer.  I inherently disbelieve in my value as a writer/singer.

Hmmm.  Why one and not the other?

I listed a few possible answers, did a lot more soul searching, and accepted God's gift of the woman with the alabaster jar, from smack in the middle of nowhere.  

Are you familiar with her, in Mark 14:3-9?


When he was in Bethany reclining at table in the house of Simon the leper,b a woman came with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil, costly genuine spikenard. She broke the alabaster jar and poured it on his head.4
There were some who were indignant. “Why has there been this waste of perfumed oil?
5
It could have been sold for more than three hundred days’ wages and the money given to the poor.” They were infuriated with her.
6
Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good [beautiful]thing for me.
7
The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me.
8
She has done what she could. She has anticipated anointing my body for burial.
9
Amen, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
http://www.usccb.org/bible/mark/14
I figured that if God dropped this story in my lap, it was going to be useful to me.  And if this story was going to be useful to me, I should put myself in it.  So, I did.  It came out like this...
I came with my writing, music, and good intent - very costly, because I can see all at table but Christ. I offer what I have.  Some say to themselves, "Why is she bothering?  Why does she think this is a good idea?  Their silence feels like a reproach.  But, Jesus said, "Let them alone; why do you trouble with them?  You have done a beautiful thing to me.  You have done what you could.  
And so, I resolve to sing, and play, and write, because I can.  I want to.  I have something to offer, and I can imagine Christ being pleased with my willingness to do so, even though the vulnerability is costly.
Image result for green alabaster jar
scrapingraisins.blogspot.com
I mentioned this briefly, as we went around the group to share something of what we received over the weekend.  In short time, several women mentioned their fear when it comes to being creative.  What if it's not good?  What if someone else could do it better?  What if no one likes it?  What if?   What if?  What if?  What if?  What if?  What if?  What if?  What if?  What if?  What if?  What if?

Their questions are my own.  But, there's another question.  A better question.  


What IF your offering of music, writing, art, food, dance, ________________  is an expression of your heart, and God loves it?!!!  

What is that thing that you can offer Christ (and the world) about which He will be able to say...

You have done a beautiful thing to me.  You have done what you could. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Holding Why Like How

I just have a few thoughts I'd like to string together from the strange and wonderful world of chaplaincy I live in.  From hospital rooms to memorial services to nursing homes to hospice suites, the unexpected and perpetual inspiration are my constant companions.  I offer them to you, that you may share in my joy and wonder.

Several things stand out from this week alone.  The most surprising went like this...

I was doing my routine rounds on my floor, assessing and attempting to meet the emotional and spiritual needs of my patients, when I came to the door of a patient I met briefly in the lobby the week before.  At that time, he was in the admissions process, but looked highly uncomfortable, so I approached him to see if he needed help.  He said he really needed to lay down, so I checked with the unit where he was going, took his stuff, and then him, and that was all there was to it.  At least for me.
But, this day, about five minutes into our conversation, he asked, "What's your name, again?"   He lit up when I told him.  He said, "Oh!  You're Heidi!  We met in the lobby the other day."  I said yes.  He said, "You were my angel."  I wrote about you in my notebook.  I write down the names of people who take care of me so I can pray for them.  He started thumbing through one of the two notebooks at his bedside until he found the entry.  He read it out loud, beginning with, "I had just prayed to God to send someone to help me.  Then an angel came to me today.  Her name was Heidi...Thank you Lord, for my Hidy."

I know I am not an angel, but it doesn't hurt my feelings to be confused with one.  If there is an angel in this story, I'm pretty sure it is him.

Hebrews 13:1-2  Let brotherly love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

To have met someone for five minutes and a week later to see your name in their handwriting, in their notebook, in their prayer of thanksgiving, there are no words (although, I'm using plenty of them, anyway).  How often are we used by God to answer the prayer of another, without our knowing?  I imagine this feeling to be a hint of what our introduction to heaven will be like, with many a "Huh! and "I had no idea!"

I think this language suits us very well.  We have no idea.  We have no earthly idea.  And I'm coming to the conclusion that this is an important part of the solution for living with any sense of peace during our sojourn here.  It seems that most believers have long accepted they don't know how God does what He does, on any level of creation.  As one of my patients recently told me, "I could give one of my students a million dollars and tell them to go into the lab and produce a seed, and they couldn't do it."   Anyone who has "grown" a child without knowing how can agree.  We know we can't so much as create a knuckle or a fingernail from our own knowledge or power.

If it wasn't so painful, it would be funny to realize that we who understand so little about how things happen, could be so demanding and insistent about why they happen.  What if we could treat why like how?  Maybe, we could at least try.  Resting only in the mind of God, they are equally beyond our ability to comprehend.

(I wrote a song inspired by this idea.  The link is at the bottom of the post if you'd like to spend more time with this idea.)

Sometimes, I get a glimpse into how limited my viewpoint really is.  Recently, I visited with a patient a couple of times before she died, and went by the church to drop off a card on the day of her funeral. Here is the limited viewpoint part...I was actually surprised to see a hearse parked out in front.  Even though I knew she died (that was why I was at the church after all), I was still picturing her in the bed where she laid, in the room where we visited.  I hadn't "moved" her out of that room in my mind.  And if I had thought to, what then?

I realized, not for the first time, that this is one of the harder things about being a chaplain.  It is easy to get stuck in a moment of suffering or death.  We don't usually get the rest of the story. We are "for a moment".  Of course, I realize the impossibility of having it any other way, but still.  I will rest with the words of a beloved priest and coworker, "It is what it is."

I guess that's what it all comes down to.  At least for the people who have lived a lot of life.  One of my nursing home residents, who has gone from regular attendance at worship and Bingo, to passing entire months in her bed, said it best in her prayer request... "To accept my life, as it is."  

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:12


https://youtu.be/kJp3miZ2_Uw

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Competent Humility

I'm just home from the Adoration chapel (my weekly one hour date with Jesus, only I'm usually at least five minutes late, because I call my Mom on the way there, and well, ten minutes is hardly enough time, but leaving sooner proves mostly impossible).  Tonight was one of those nights I didn't need the coffee I drank beforehand to stay awake, because I am in epiphany land.  Land of epiphanies.  When did I write you last?  A couple of weeks ago, I think.  Pretty much since then.

My clinical pastoral education supervisor challenged me to make "claiming my competence" as one of my learning goals.  I was shooting for "positive use of power and authority", which seemed much more clinical and considerably less narcissistic, but I conceded.   I could see that she might be on to something when I couldn't so much as comfortably name one thing I knew I was good at, or why I was good at it, without feeling like a total clown/heel/Oscar award winner.

I quickly accepted I was going to have to recognize the competencies I already possess and name them.  But, I wondered why the idea of it felt so abhorrent?  This might be one.  A long carried belief...

...God highly values the man who out of true humility belittles and forgets himself, judges himself unworthy of all gifts and benefits, does not flaunt them when received, and does not seek the praise of others...                             -Thomas a Kempis

Very aware of the tension between my learning goal to name my pastoral competencies and a life goal of pursuing humility (hopefully with a more lenient deadline than six months), I began to rack my brain, perusing my new books for hints, and trusting that God would resolve the real or perceived conflict between naming my competencies and belittling and forgetting myself!  Goodness me!

In doing so, I came across a chapter entitled, The Caregiver's Life Experience as a Source of Authority.  Aha!  Life experience!  Yes!  I have that.  Good, here we go...

Without reading so much as a paragraph from the chapter, I made a list of all of the things I've endured or overcome in my life (including but not limited to the four things mentioned in my grief timeline from my last post).  Afterward, I was actually feeling a little embarrassingly proud of that list.  Huh!  I had never considered my hardships as bullet points on an emotional availability/proven character/pastoral competency resume of sorts.  Kind of cool to drop this list (pretend it's written on an old tin can) into the empty metal bucket of my self-perception, and hear the loud clank of something in there!

That would have been quite enough self-revelation for a good chunk of time to come, but, it was quite the same thing again (in rapid succession).  While I was sitting there, feeling good about all of the bad/hard things in my life, I realized, "Hey!  That's not all!"  There are a lot of really good things that should be clanking around in that bucket, too!  Fourteen years of marriage, twelve years of motherhood, seven years of working in the clinical setting between the medical and spiritual side, three units of clinical pastoral education, and a partridge in a pear tree!

Ha!  Hoo and Ray!  

Feeling instantly more competent in pastoral care than ever before, I thanked God for the mercifully brief period of revelation, all of the experiences in said revelation, and returned to the conundrum of forgetting myself while thinking about myself inordinately.

Providentially, I found this little gem of a daily morning offering, a few days old, in my inbox from catholiccompany.com:

"There was much in the Magdalen that she had never used, perhaps never dreamed of, until she came to our Lord. He revealed to her the secret of true self-development, which is another word for sanctity. And she found under His guidance that everything in her had henceforth to be used, and used in a fuller and richer way than she had ever imagined possible. It was in no narrow school of self-limitation, in no morbid school of false asceticism, that this poor sinner was educated in the principles of sanctity, but in the large and merciful school of Him who has been ever since the hope of the hopeless, the friend of publicans and sinners; who knows full well that what men need is not to crush and kill their powers, but to find their true use and to use them; that holiness is not the emptying of life, but the filling; that despair has wrapped its dark cloud around many a soul because it found itself in possession of powers that it abused and could not destroy and did not know how to use. Christ taught them the great and inspiriting doctrine 'I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.'"
— Fr. Basil W. Maturin, p. 40

I felt extremely humbled at the thought of being so needy, so well-known, and so hand-fed.  Exactly what I needed.  There was only one thing I still needed to know.

Where do the corners of Magdalen's true self-development and Thomas a Kempis' humility intersect?

Back in the chapel, I asked the Lord this question, in so many words.  Can you show me what being competent and humble at the same time looks like?

He did.


















Sunday, January 15, 2017

And Did You Get What You Wanted From This Life Even So?

This post is a little different from the others, in that I'm not sure what the point is going to be.  But, I am pretty confident I will know at the end of reflecting with you, here.

This week I started the fourth and final unit of my Clinical Pastoral Education program.  A requirement for becoming a certified chaplain.  This only matters because that's where the question was posed.  The question that has me sifting through past memories and photographs.

After a brief description of the six types of loss (not to be confused with the stages of grief), my classmates and I were challenged to make an elementary timeline of our biggest losses, what type of losses they were, and how old we were when they occurred.  That step was fairly easy.  Mine looked like this:


Pretty self-explanatory except where "systemic" is crossed out in a couple of places.  I was unsure if it applied.  It did.

This exercise was the last one of the day.  We went round-table, shared, and went home.  That seemed fine.  Until I got home.  I pulled in the driveway and didn't even have the emotional energy to get out of the car.  I texted a friend from my class and we met for coffee, which helped a lot.  But, afterward, I still felt like I had entered a time traveling machine, and for whatever reason, like I needed to stay in the past, ask questions and get answers.  Only the person I need to ask is me.  And I'm 39-years-old.

In trying to examine the past from a great distance, all squinting, telescopes, and magnifying glasses fall short. I'm just not really sure about a lot of it.  Do my feelings now accurately reflect my feelings then?  Do memories mirror actual events or are they products of creative writing without the inconvenience of writer's cramp?  Was my most self-sacrificing moment really my most self-sacrificing moment? Does it matter?

Looking through old photos for clues, there were poignant surprises in both directions.  Happiness where I remembered sadness and sadness where I remembered joy.

In the end, as I heard someone say recently, life is full of "mixed blessings".  If you could only use two words to sum up life, these two should be in the running.  Shade tree or not, this seems like a good bench to rest on, along the rocky road of what ifs and did I really's and why didn't I's.

In the world of mixed blessings and pleasant surprises, Traveling Mercies - Some Thoughts on Faith, has been a great one!  I thought it was going to be cutesy and maybe quotable at best, but it is raw and very honest, instead.  I always prefer the latter.

I'm only a third of the way in, but life looms large.  Faith is a minor character in the distant hills, but there just the same.  This morning, with all of this other stuff swirling around in my head, Anne Lamott starts Part Two with a poem by Raymond Carver entitled Late Fragment:

And did you get what you wanted from this life even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

Yes.  This.  This is what matters.  Being beloved.

In looking at pictures from throughout my life, I'm surprised at how many pictures exist of people and things I've loved at different times.

For example, I've devoted years of my life to horses - riding them, caring for them, and caring for people who rode them.  But, I haven't ridden a horse in nine years. The pile of pictures of the girl on as many horses in as many places look like me, but they don't feel like me.  In a way, I would like to be her again.  Fearless and free.


But, the reality is, I traded fearless and free for beloved.  Horses for a husband and boys who make my home feel like a barn without the hay.  And I would do it again.  

I guess those are life's victories.  Those things that you would do again.  And again.  And again.

Losses can be grieved, weighed, examined, and considered.  Life can be reflected upon, and it probably is worthwhile to do so, as long as you return to where you are.  Here.  Now.

The river of life has never left me in an eddy or changed directions.  It has gently and steadily moved me downstream, as it will continue to do.  Always with something bittersweet from the past, something to be enjoyed in the moment, and something to look forward to.  And none of it, alone.

My front door keeps slamming.  Shirtless boys are shouting - running in and out, playing in the rain.  A pork tenderloin is roasting in the oven, Andy Griffith is on TV, and I am beloved.