Ash Wednesday in Two Hands

ashI had been looking forward to Ash Wednesday and getting to participate in the imposition of ashes for the first time. I first assisted with the chapel service which felt fairly familiar and then went to offer ashes to patients, families, and staff on the floors I work on. This is where the experience was a little different. If you ever want to feel painfully redundant, try reminding people who work at a children’s hospital that life is fragile – then trying wearing a cross of ashes on your forehead while standing in a trauma room. It was as if my very presence screamed out the truth that we so often try to not think about – life is fragile – from dust you came and to dust you shall return.

I feel as if my life as a chaplain outside of the hospital frequently serves that purpose. I am the individual in social gatherings whose job you don’t want to inquire after because I might say something sad or something that reminds you that life is fragile and that that fragility could affect you and your loved ones. Instead people just stick with, “you must love your job, just love it, it must be so rewarding” plus a few “I could never do that’s” thrown in for good measure. It is as if my job inside the hospital is to bring comfort and yet outside the hospital I tend to make people uncomfortable and not in a way that’s generally appreciated.

This was the way I was thinking about the imposition of ashes when I went to one of my floors. A family I have been following for five months asked me to come and put ashes on their foreheads. I started with the siblings of the patient first, and I truly wish I had thought of something wiser or more creative to say, but I didn’t so instead, by the time I got to the patient, I looked her in the eyes, made the sign of the cross on her forehead and said “remember, from dust you came and to dust you shall return… and you are beloved of God.” I somehow managed not to cry, but when I made it back down to my desk I texted my mom, “I am in the deep end of Ash Wednesday!?!” It is one thing to remind people of their mortality in church, where many feel safely removed, it is quite another to look into the eye of a child who has already had two bone marrow transplants.

My mom texted me back and said, “remember what the rabbis said, you are to hold in one hand that from dust you came and to dust you shall return and in the other, that even for you, the world was created.” I think many times in Lent, or just in life, we forget that balance both for ourselves and for others. It is often too easy to focus on one and neglect the other. As I looked at that little girl’s face I thought about how fragile we are and how “dusty” life is, but I also thought about how majestic life is as well. How there is holiness in little moments, and how even people we barely know are precious parts of God’s creation.

This lent, I pray we hold onto both ideas, that we honor the fragility of life and do not take it for granted, that every healthy baby born, every yearly well visit is a reason for celebration as if the world could have turned on it, and at the same time, that we take in the majesty of creation, and that we are both a small and magnificently large part of it. That we allow ourselves to be both uncomfortable and to honor the fragility and also to be in awe – which can be uncomfortable too – both require courage. As my favorite quote from the book Gilead puts it, “I think there must also be a prevenient courage that allows us to be brave – that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm.”

Here’s to a dusty, uncomfortable, majestic, awe-filled Lenten season…

Ordering Chaos (or just my closets)

IMG_1246I have always been fine with a certain amount of chaos. I grew up in a menagerie that included, at one point or another, everything from quail in my bathroom to a baby goat between our beds — I have even described said menagerie as ‘organized chaos.’ And I didn’t like my ability to be unstructured, I always wanted to be one of those people who was more ordered — One who kept to a strict schedule and say studied each subject for 15 minutes a day or made my bed each morning, but I wasn’t. Apparently, I just hadn’t hit the correct level of chaos yet…

For those who read my last post about New Years Goals, you know that I was beginning to feel like this CPE residency was running my life. Between never having the same schedule each week to leaving for on call and return 24-28 hours later to having schedule and assignment changes every time I turned around, the program in itself is chaotic. This is even before you add in the actual on call shift where you can be paged three places at the same time, have simultaneously bereavement situations on different units, and then get paged to a trauma in the ED. This was finally a level of chaos that I could no longer absorb, and I responded by adding more structure than my life has probably had since I was a toddler.

I implemented a cleaning schedule and have a planner that lets you plan by the half hour (which is a hilarious idea at a hospital, so I leave work hours blank). But you know what I’ve discovered is even more cathartic? Reorganizing closets. Seriously, it has become my post on call favorite activity. There’s something about taking all the things onto the floor, figuring out what is needed and what isn’t and then trying to fit it back into the closet in an organized manner (did I mention I have terrible spacial reasoning?). It doesn’t take a psychologist to guess some of the symbolism behind this activity, and it hasn’t been lost on me that I am seeking out order in areas of my life that I can control.

There is only one problem though — we live in a relatively small duplex, and I reorganized all of the closets (except my husband’s) within the interim period. Now I’m going into unit 2, and I have no more closets to take my grief, anger, confusion, etc out on after on call. But, I had quite a thought the other day which may soften the blow. I was thinking of the creation account in Genesis 1where it says that “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” — that word for wind is also the word for breath or spirit — ruach — and then God created light. The breath or spirit of God swept across the chaos and created out of it. I like that. I need that.

You see, there aren’t enough closets to sort out the grief that comes from working at a children’s hospital, there really aren’t enough for just the chaos that comes with being human. I could go so far as to alphabetize every part of my house from books to DVDs to spice jars, and I would still have nightmares after some nights on call, and I’d still have knots in my soul as I work though what it is to be human in a fallen world. And that’s when I especially need the breath of the Holy Spirit to blow across my soul to transform chaos into whatever it needs to become — maybe not always order, because creation itself is not always order — maybe questions, maybe righteous anger, maybe holy imagination, maybe something I don’t even know to ask for…

Now I will still keep organizing things because it keeps me busy and helps me not hold onto too much stuff, but maybe with less urgency. Because I know that I cannot reorder the chaos in the world nor in my heart on my own, and each and every day it is as if the world is created anew, when the breath of God, the Holy Spirit, can sweep across our hearts and world and bring forth light out of darkness.

Why I Love New Year’s Goals

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As my husband has now thoroughly learned, I love day dreaming and making goals. I blame/attribute this firstly to an awesome 4th grade teacher who taught me how to make mind maps and plan in a non-linear manner, which fit my less than linear mental processes. Secondly, would probably be due to my collegiate cross-country coach who had us write goals on a notecard at the beginning of each season and then post it on our desk or mirror, so we could see them daily.

Regardless of how it started, I now have grown into someone who continues to think about and write goals without being prompted. I know that some people see goals and New Year’s Resolutions as making lists that we can’t live up to or finding another way we don’t keep up ‘with the Jones’. But, what if instead, the New Year was thought of as a chance to give yourself some grace and dream bigger? That’s my suggestion at least, and here’s the way I think it’s most fun.

1. Get moving! — my husband and I have discovered that we have our best conversations while moving, so for the second year in a row we went on a New Year’s Day hike to reflect, dream, and be grateful for the year. Sometimes this has been random, though this year we found some great discussion questions from The Art of Simple. If getting outdoors isn’t inviting enough for you, research shows that men have better conversations when not staring at their conversation partner across a table (think about it — in battle, the good guys are next to you, not across from you) — so get moving!

2. Get doodling/ dreaming! — I got a super awesome Christmas present that really fits well with my non-linear thinking. It’s called the Passion Planner. Even if you don’t feel like totally changing up your method, maybe try incorporating some more dreaming and doodling — try mapping out your life and then three years and a year out and see what comes up — set a timer though. Instead of starting with lists, maybe start with images and day dreams and then see how they turn into lists. It made the process both more fun and surprisingly educational.

3. Get accountability! — After our hiking and reflecting and after I spent time with my own dreaming, my husband and I sat down and discussed our joint goals — things we wanted to work on together which included fun things like date nights and useful things like continuing with budget night (I’ll write about that at some point). We used some of the relationship and financial questions from The Art of Simple again. We even talked about individual goals and how we can help keep each other accountable and encouraged. I also found an app for my phone to track some of my goals so I can see patterns — this is really good for keeping track of exercising and getting 7 hours of sleep, and it was free. You might want to check them out to keep track of your progress. We also found help for some of our goals — instead of reinventing the wheel, we’re using some programs and books to supplement our own ideas (you can see some of them listed down by my goals).

4. Get grateful! — Importantly, use this time to reflect and be grateful for all you’ve done and been in a year. Even having new goals requires having a starting place. This past year was both wonderful and really challenging and thinking through hard and good parts allowed us to bring up people and experiences that we learned from and are grateful for, some of which we hadn’t thought of until this process. Even some experiences that had been hard had shown us our strength as a couple and times we had acted with integrity even when it was hard. At the end of the day, I was really grateful for this past year, and I didn’t find this process to be discouraging because of that.

5. Get excited! — I don’t know about you, but I’m very excited about 2015. Due to breaking down my goals into smaller pieces as well as day-dreaming for years to come, the new year allows me to try again and think about how I can make small changes. I ended up 2014 feeling like my residency at the hospital was running my life, and I didn’t like that. I now have goals  that I hope will help me form habits and practices that will suite me well in life so that even when part of my schedule feels out of my control, I still feel as if I am working on becoming more of the person I would like to be. I think this biggest one is committing to getting up 15 minutes earlier to start my day in prayer. I hope that my turning this into a habit, that I will not start the day so frantically and instead will start the day with a more in-tune heart and mind.

And for accountability sake — here are a few of my goals —

  1. Pack my lunch the night before
  2. Work on eating more real food — we have a challenge to help with this one — 100 Days of Real Food
  3. Set alarm to get 7 hours of sleep (on-call doesn’t count ;) )
  4. Wake up 15 minutes earlier for prayer and study
  5. Train for half marathon including yoga and weights twice a week
  6. Work through budgeting book — Check out Living Well Spending Less
  7. Make and keep a cleaning schedule

Here’s to a joyful, grateful, daydream-full 2015!

Books for 2015!

New Books to Start & Finish in the New Year 

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The Connected Child – I’m on chapter four. I started reading this due to my personal interest in foster care and adoption, but so far a lot of the information is just really useful — things like limiting TV time and holding your children. Also, alerted to me to the way the idea of “time out” has been hijacked — goodness, time out never meant sending the child to another room, glad we figured that out.

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A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity — I enjoyed Half the Sky and saw this book suggested by Save the Children and The Nurse Family Partnership so I am greatly looking forward to digging into this Christmas present. I’m hoping to learn, as promised, about ways to become a better global citizen, and in my understanding, Kingdom builder.

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The Nesting Place: It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful — I’ve already started this one and it’s great. For a pastor/pastor’s spouse who is sure to move and not sure to ever own a house, it’s exciting to find a book that inspires creativity while understanding you might be renting and working on a budget. A fun read so far! And fun to check out her blog as well — The Nesting Place.

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Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels  — Another exciting Christmas present that I have yet to start, but I can think of more than a few people it reminds me of… It seems to be meant for all sorts of readers and looks to be both fun and engaging.

Books to Read Aloud

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The Westing Game — One of my favorite books in elementary school. It’s thoughtful and suspenseful without being scary. The characters are wonderful, and I still enjoy reading it as an adult.

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The Phantom Tollbooth — Another childhood favorite — it’s clever, witty, and pun-y and surprisingly educational. I’m always surprised when more people haven’t read this book to be honest.

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From the Mixed- Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler — This one might have been read aloud to us — sweet, clever, fun — seriously, what child wouldn’t want to run away to a museum?

Books Without Too Many Words (i.e. my favorites)

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The Day the Goose Got Loose — I buy this book for all my favorite little people, which is becoming more challenging as it is out of print, but thankfully has been easy to get on Amazon. It rhymes, has gorgeous pictures, and is one of my favorite picture books of all time.

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Tuesday — I’m surprised that more people don’t know about this book — nor the author’s more famous publication “The Polar Express.” This book is wonderful because it really has very few words which allows you to re-imagine the story each time you read it.

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Tacky the Penguin — My sister’s favorite books (there’s many more). They’re funny, have great pictures, and a great message about the benefits of being unique.

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The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash — Again, amazing pictures, and all sorts of mini stories within the pictures. Great for animal lovers and certainly funny.

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We’re Going on a Bear Hunt — My favorite book as a child. It has beautiful pictures, fun rhymes, and a bear that’s sure to add fun to the reading.