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

"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.