Ours is to Be Faithful Today

I am one of those people who like to have a long range plan of sorts. In some ways it’s more like a long range goal because I’m not super anal about the steps along the way or putting all the pieces in place ahead of time. I do really like to know what I’m shooting for though. This is where discernment comes in.

For those who have been following along at home, I’m in a chaplaincy residency, which is a yearlong program – August to August — where I’m, for all intents and purposes, a chaplain at a children’s hospital. But here’s the rub, I’m not a staff chaplain, this is not a long term job. This means that part of this process is discernment, specifically vocational discernment.

I sometimes wish I was one of those people who had a lifelong dream to be something. Like my sister who’s wanted to be a vet since she could talk. When I’m not being overly simplistic, I realize that that path of discernment comes with its own potholes and roadblocks. I use to have it easier in that I went into seminary loving going to church but having zero interest in working in one, as in none, as in, I thought I’d reassess when I was 40. But the Holy Spirit is a little more fun than that, for which I am grateful.

So here I am, missing my job as justice pastor at the church, and living into the hard but wonderful job as a chaplain resident. I’ve been at this for about a month and here’s what my daily inner monologue has looked like: I love this! I’m gonna do it for forever. Wait, today was boring, I had no one to visit. I wanna be in the church. I miss organizing ministry. I wanna preach. I just had the most fulfilling day. I love visiting with patients and families. What’s with this over 40 hours a week in the same place thing?! What if I was a trapeze artist? … You get the point.

But I was doing that every day. Like somehow I thought vocational discernment meant voting for my preferred job at the end of every day and seeing what got the most tally marks. The end result of this has been stress, confusion, and probably a bit of a “grass is greener” complex. It has not helped me to live gratefully in the present. Thankfully, I have an awesome husband, who not only took care of my under the weather, stuck at home self these last few days, but also helped me think through some of the neurosis that bubbles to the surface when I’m stuck in bed too long.

He told me, “Ours is to be faithful today.” Oh, right. It was a moment of Holy Spirit awakening. Our job is not to try and plan out every step of the way, or we wouldn’t need the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and we will very well miss out on how we are to live out our vocation as Children of God for today. So what might being faithful to today look like? (All thoughts are appreciated)

For now, we’ve decided it means being committed to spending some of our (my husband and my’s) nightly prayer time once a week to praying for discernment in both of our separate vocations and in our calling together.

It means (for me) going in and being the best chaplain resident I can be each and every day and not spending time on planning my own future when I could be listening to the Holy Spirit about how to offer care to the people in front of me.

It means trusting that this isn’t all mine to figure out, that I have been lead this far and that I believe we were promised we will not be left orphans.

How are you faithful to today?

Chaplaincy According to X-Men

 “It’s the greatest gift we have: to bear their pain without breaking. And it comes from the most human part of us: hope.”

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 I have the wonderful gift of people who check in with me after I have been on call. This last week this was especially true as it was my first night back on call at the children’s hospital. At church on Sunday lots of wonderful folks came up and asked me the innocent question, “How was on call?” I don’t know how to answer this question honestly. Now, don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate being asked. It makes me feel cared about and connected. I just struggle with knowing how to answer.

Are you asking about me personally? (I usually assume so) Then I’ll tell you that it was busy but not terrible. This is code for “a lot happened, but I still got a few hours of sleep and didn’t wake up in the fetal position.” And sometimes when I need a little more honest response I just say, “Well, I made it through, and I’m still going back.” To some folks who are more in the know I’ll give the stats of the evening – “there were three traumas, two codes, and a death,” but that’s just a list. There’s this part of me that still feels dishonest though, because the truth is, I bore witness to the worst day of someone’s life. I was present for the day no parent ever thought could happen, except in their worst nightmare, and I didn’t have any way to physically help. I stand by the parent(s) and often just act as a silent reminder that God is still present, even in this place.

On the other hand, I can’t and don’t want to tell folks what really happened when they ask me casually how my night went. Because 1. There’s HIPPA and all that jazz 2. No one would ever talk to me again, and 3. That wouldn’t do the family and child justice. But where does that leave me?

This is where X-Men comes in. I saw this movie a bit ago with my husband and was struck by a description given by Professor X (No spoilers, I promise), but he said, “It’s the greatest gift we have: to bear their pain without breaking. And it comes from the most human part of us: hope.” And I got really excited in the movie theater because I wanted to shout out — that’s what a chaplain does! That’s a really good description! We bear witness to the pain and suffering in our world, we hold it in our hands and hearts for a moment even though it’s not ours to hold, and it’s not ours to keep. We are stand-ins for the Divine; we are vehicles of the Holy Spirit. I would argue with X-Men though that the hope that sustains us is only the most human part of us in the sense that we are made in the image of God, and in that sense, when we hope, as we were created to hope, we are both most human and also closer to God.

Besides the fact that the kiddos at the hospital bring me great joy, I sometimes think that the biggest part of my calling is just as Professor X put it — I have been able so far, through the grace of God, to bear their pain without breaking. So when folks ask how I’m doing, some days I really will be fine. Some days I won’t tell you that I had nightmares a few nights after being on call or that I cried back in the chaplaincy office. But at the end of the day, I worship a God of hope, so even when I break, there’s someone to help put the pieces back together. So who do I answer for? Myself? The children and families whose pain I bear witness to and journey with them through?

I’m still figuring that out, and maybe there aren’t good words, but I’m beginning to think “hard” might be a good answer, or maybe “hard, but I’m where I’m supposed to be.” — Or as I told someone the other day “Hard, but the Holy Spirit ain’t let me down yet!” And thanks be to God for that.

If Not in Church…

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Surgeon General’s Warning: This post contains hypocrisy in varying amounts, read at your own risk :)

So, to be very honest, I was not looking forward to going to church this morning. It had been a very busy week. I just started at the children’s hospital, I went on a commissioning retreat, and had family and friends in town, in short, the stress of a lot of good things happening too close together. So, I wasn’t excited. I even considered not going, but only in the way I consider not brushing my teeth — it’s an option, but it’s not one I generally ever take.

Part of why I eventually went, besides the fact that I believe the Holy Spirit is at work even when I’m reluctant or grumpy, is because today was a slightly different Sunday. We were doing a ‘church swap’ with a Mennonite congregation down the road, so we could get to know one another. This meant that some folks from the Mennonite church came to our 9:30 service and we were going to head over and join their 11:00 service.

And a funny thing happened, as it sometimes does, I got what I needed to hear for the day from the children’s moment. Now this may just say something about me and my ability to process information but there is also something to how we get to the root of the idea sometimes when talking to children. The elder was talking the children through the story of Moses. He reminded them of how they had learned about Joseph and how that had led to the Pharaoh’s fear of their being too many Hebrew men. The part that really struck me though was when he started talking about the midwives who wouldn’t kill the Hebrew baby boys. He talked with the kids about how we generally consider disobeying to be bad, but that there are times when we have to say no to power to follow God, especially because God loves all of us, and we are not to take life.

I thought to myself, wow, these children are being taught about saying no to power when it goes against love of God and love of neighbor. Why haven’t I talked about this in church before? Because if we don’t teach children (and adults) in church that we sometimes have to say no to power to say yes to God, where are we going to learn? In school? Maybe, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. On the internet? (Here’s the hypocrisy) I’m going to tell you in a blog that there’s a limit to what we can learn from the internet and blogs. I really appreciate the blog posts I’ve read and articles that teach me and show me perspectives different than my own, but it’s not the same as a conversation. (And I’d hazard a guess that some of the comments section on blog posts and articles would make Jesus cry). Now here’s the balance, many of our churches lack diversity of perspective but that doesn’t mean we’re excused from discussion, it just means we do still need to invite and read and ask questions. But we, as the church, are where this conversation needs to start, because it’s our responsibility, and if not at church, then where?

At the end of the day, I was also reminded about why the Body of Christ is deep and wide. We often have different areas of emphasis, and we can learn from each other. Today, I was so thankful to learn from my Mennonite brothers and sisters and to be reminded about one of the ways that we are called to be the church.

For When I Don’t Have Words

Reading the news the last few weeks has left me at a loss for words. The first time I was asked to be liturgist at church this morning I turned it down. I only agreed the second time because I believe the Holy Spirit gives us words when we have none. (Or as I told my husband – “The Holy Spirit ain’t let me down yet”)  During the time of confession I admitted that while I believe that the Kingdom of God is here and not yet, sometimes I feel like I cannot see the ‘here’ for all the ‘not yet.’ And so we prayed, I led the congregation in praying for Ferguson, for Israel and Palestine, for Iraq and West Africa, though my words didn’t seem quite right, or enough, though I prayed God would use them.

And as I prayed I realized that I do not always need my own words. Sometimes all I can say is “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.” That has recently been my starting place when reading the news. I can pray from Scripture and pray that we might know the perfect love that casts out fear. I can pray the words of the saints who’ve come before, such as the prayer of St. Francis and that’s who resonated the most with me this morning. “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.” Those may not be my words, but I can say them as a prayer for all the feelings I cannot quite express…

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace– I may not have all the words, but please guide my actions, I don’t want to pray without also acting…

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace– Forgive me, for I know that I participate and perpetuate systems of oppression and injustice and I’m not even always aware of how, please open my eyes, inform my heart, teach me new ways…

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace– Give me ears to hear the cries of injustice, do not let my heart grow heavy, let me never say that the cries of Your children are not my problem, not my concern, bring me alongside brothers and sisters who can speak to my blind spots and can teach me how to love my neighbors more fully…

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace–Help me to see all the ways that your Kingdom is already here amidst the hurt and brokenness in this world, draw me to those places so that I might participate in the in-breaking of your Kingdom…

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy… Amen