Practicing Grace

IMG_1078Every once in a while, who am I kidding, at least three times a week, I wonder if I was crazy to do a chaplaincy residency in my first year of marriage. Last week, when I felt overwhelmed, I realized that I sometimes forget that this job is hard in itself — even if nothing else in my life was difficult or changing, being a chaplain in a children’s hospital is hard. This may be stating the obvious to those not in the midst of it, but what one does daily becomes normal.

When I am at a low point I tell myself that our first year of marriage shouldn’t be this hard. I ‘shouldn’t’ have to deal with negotiating work difficulties, bearing witness to traumas and death, spending way more group time discussing my feelings than in the last five years of my life combined. We shouldn’t have to deal with the figuring out how to gracefully fit into each others families, praying for vocational discernment, and have friends move away all at the same time and the resulting tears, quiet periods, or frustration. Oh “shouldn’t” what a loaded word, and really not a useful one.

Then I realized, we’ve been given room to practice grace. I remember talking to a good friend of mine when I’d been married for just a few weeks, and I told her how my husband was doing considerably more dishwashing than me and maybe I should stop him, and she told me that many habits are set in the first 6 weeks of marriage and not to mess ;). In similar form, we’re practicing grace.

We’re practicing early to express our feelings and to know how to ask the other person what they’re feeling. We’re practicing seeking out the other when we need comfort or tears dried. We’re practicing boundaries and what to share and what to keep at work. We’re practicing praying for each other throughout the day. We’re practicing finding joy in hard days. We’re practicing how to make time for Sabbath. We’re practicing showing each other grace and receiving grace in return.

Yes, there are things I would change. Primarily, I wished we lived in a world where no child got hurt or died. I wish we always understood each other and our families and always communicated in healthy and open ways. But that’s not always going to happen, and as I’ve learned in my residency, “practice makes better.” If in these first months we are making habits and patterns that will be harder to change later on, I would prefer, in the long term, that we work them out in grace. Better now than when things get harder or in later years when little people are added to the mix. I want to make a habit of grace.

To have and to hold, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health — or when work is hard or easy or family is complicated or dealings are simple, when friends move away or new friends emerge, there is never a day that goes by where grace is not needed for the journey. Thanks be to God for the opportunity to practice and an example to follow.

Do (Not) Go Gentle into that Good Night…

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Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I frequently get that Dylan Thomas poem stuck in my head when I’m on call at the hospital. It’s probably partially due to the fact that I like this poem, but it also swims around in my head as a question. Do (not) go gentle into that good night. How do we grieve? How do we let people go?

I’ve watched those who do and don’t go gently into that good night and some parents who do both for their child. I’ve almost prayed this poem under my breath, watching from the edge of a trauma room, standing beside a parent, willing a child to keep fighting. Do not go gentle into that good night!

I’ve been beside parents who kick and scream and physically fight the universe and those who collapse in like a black hole just opened up inside them. I’ve had times I was called in as chaplain with the hopes of calming a parent down or at least helping them lower their volume, but sometimes I just keep company and bear witness as someone rages against the dying of the light. We are not always called to quiet grief.

I fear that sometimes our faith traditions teach us to grieve quietly, to always go gently into the good night. To offer words of comfort before words of mourning, to try and cut off anguish at the pass, like that’s even a possibility. On the other hand, I sometimes see that our not going gently is refusing to accept the pending reality of death, of putting a child through pain that will serve no benefit. I believe that the Psalms offer a different perspective to both approaches

Walter Brueggeman, an Old Testament scholar, writes about Psalms of orientation, disorientation, and new orientation. He explains that disorientation is the season where we experience pain, alienation, suffering, or death. During these times we can feel all sorts of negative emotions from resentment and frustration to even hatred and rage. A previous worldview is coming apart and a new one is being formed. We move from disorientation to new orientation slowly as we question and create a new world with God and creation, but one that doesn’t have all the easy answers it had before.

The problem, he states, is that we live is a world of disorientation but insist on singing songs of orientation. This, some might say, is a bold act of faith in a world of disorder, but it also might just be numb denial when we cannot handle the disorder of this world. I tell parents sometimes that God is big enough to handle whatever we throw at God. There is no honesty God cannot handle. The Psalms of disorientation teach us that. There is some pure honesty in there that I, personally, would be afraid to say to God.

I think the Psalms offer an example of how to (not) go gentle into that good night. To rage at God can be an act of faithfulness. It is faith to call out to a God because you believe God is there to hear you. There is faithfulness in the lament, in the voicing of pain, in not moving on to comfort and new orientation so quickly. I believe that when we are not in denial of the disorder of this world, that we can be open to learn when to give in to grief and when to keep raging against the dying of the light.

While I realize that I write this from the perspective of a hospital chaplain, there is not life without disorder, and how we approach God and our brothers and sisters in that disorder is important. Do we, as a faith community, leave room for lament? Do we try to soften grief too quickly? Do we focus so much energy on the fighting death that we do not know when to surround and comfort a person so that they are able to let their loved one go gently to God? Do we as a community only sing songs of orientation in a world of disorientation? How can we make room for grief and honest conversation with God and each other? How do we (not) go gentle into that good night?

My 10 Favorite Things about Being Married (at almost 5 months in)

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(See future installments, we haven’t been at this very long)

10. It’s much more fun to clean our house than it was to clean a place shared with a roommate. I’m still amazed we get to live here together and make it ours. It really helps that he finds hand washing dishes to be peaceful :)

9. Someone to share road trip driving with.

8. I have much fewer bad dreams (on call nights excluded)

7. I am forming much healthier habits — I eat three meals a day and have been getting more sleep and am working on having a exercise routine even amidst a crazy on call schedule, which is part my doing and part lots of encouragement to care for myself.

6. Having someone to go to the ER with you (and who makes sure you go).

5. In four words — He can fix things.

4. He’s open to my crazy ideas and throws in some of his own, but also is more logical than I am.

3. We think through things differently which makes talking through ideas and/or problems really helpful because we come at them from different angles.

2. Having someone to pray for and with me and knowing that I’m being prayed for throughout the day.

1. Doing life together makes every day exponentially more awesome even if it’s just a normal day. Everyday life has a lot of laughter.

 

How about you? What are your favorite things?

Learning to Jog

joggingI am learning to jog. This probably seems like an unusual statement coming from someone who was a collegiate runner, but it’s the truth. I would have never previously called myself a jogger; I honestly would have considered it to be slightly demeaning. 1. Because I felt like I was running too quickly to be a jogger and 2. Because I was racing and even after college when I was racing less frequently I was still training specifically for a race. I was not a jogger – but now I would like to be.

I am signed up to run a half marathon with my sister in a few weeks, but that is not going to happen. I will instead be cheering her on from the sidelines for her very first half marathon. And after this race, I’m not going to sign up for any races for a little bit. I’ve only ever trained to race. I had certain mileage amounts that needed to be accomplished each week to train in order to race, but now I’m just jogging. One day at a time.

This may be a season for jogging. For going out each day and seeing how I feel and what I can handle. I’m discovering that the only certainty with a CPE residency is uncertainty. Our on call schedule is more like an on call moving target. We’re almost two months in, and I still text my husband fairly regularly to tell him I’m no longer on call this day but I’m now on call this other day. One day at a time. This morning I was super excited that my parking pass actually let me into the garage – this is only the second time it’s worked which made the rest of the commute (yes, I park off campus and get bused over) much less rushed, but who knows if it will work tomorrow. One day at a time.

For me, to label my movement jogging instead of running is more about expectations. My expectations for jogging are that I enjoy it, that I take care of myself and maybe run off a hard day. I have let go of many of the expectations that came with running that had to do with pace and distance and had very little to do with enjoyment. So, really I gave up some expectations of control. Expectations that I could state ahead of time what a run would look like. In parallel, I’m giving up any illusions of control I have at the hospital, which is made easier to admit when I can’t even control if the freaking parking garage is going to let me in. I can’t control our CPE group schedule that keeps changing nor on call, nor quite what every day looks like nor even leaving early if my work is done. One day at a time.

I’m learning a lot from jogging. When I jog I have a chance to see more of my surroundings, to take things in. I don’t get as out of breath, so the experience is less painful, and I still find the process to be cathartic. It requires pacing to not go out too fast. I am continually making myself slow down, but not stop. I stop if I am in pain. I hold onto a loose agenda but readily accept change.

I have to say I’m enjoying jogging even if I don’t necessarily enjoy the uncertainty that pervades my residency experience. I do believe that giving up the illusion of control is a good thing. I do hope though that at some point I feel more stable and that my parking pass continues to work, and that I can think about the next few months without being totally overwhelmed, but even when or if I get to that point, that I keep the lessons I’m learning from jogging — Because there are new mercies each morning that are easier to see when we take it one day at a time.