One of the things I like best about being in an academic environment is you know exactly what is expected of you and when it’s due; it’s easy to have a plan. And one of the things I know about life is if you want to make God laugh – have a plan.
I’m coming close to finishing my first semester of a Master Program in Pastoral Care, and was clear about my work for the balance of this academic year and even next. I plan to enter my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education this summer – check; and continue with a Residency in Clinical Pastoral Education through August 2018 – blip.
Last week I coordinated an ordination discernment overnight for the diocese, and heard from one of my colleagues that the Residency program I planned to enter had completed its admission process and was full. Full? How could this be? I followed all the directions! I was totally deflated as the program included a stipend and health insurance. I wanted to cry – I did cry! But not hard because I still had another eight hours of the overnight to finish and this time was about others, not about me so I couldn’t fall apart. I quickly emailed one of the supervisors of the Residency program and on Monday he explained the closure of the admissions process. As it turns out this particular program started receiving applications last fall before I discerned health care chaplaincy was the ministry for me – a day late and a dollar short. Sigh! God must have a belly ache from laughing over this one.
The thing I know about God is when God is laughing it’s because God loves me and has a better plan and I need to step out of the way and let God do God’s thing. After licking my wound and talking with my academic advisor, she suggested several other Residency programs in Chicagoland. As it turns out there are some openings for the fall but nowhere near my home. And the long days would be exacerbated by the complexities of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Public Transportation – see last week’s blog.
Yes I do have a plan “B” – get a customer service job, continue with academics and delay clinical work until next year. Not a bad plan. But my “pre-plan B” plan is to follow Isaiah 40:31, “they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Can’t wait to see what the Lord has in mind!
This past week I heard these same lyrics in two different songs, “Let me see more of you and less of me,” John 3:30. OK Lord, what are you trying to tell me?
I am made in the image of God; God lives (abides) in me with every breath I take. I’m not the only one made in God’s image, but a part of all creation. Yes, including the people who “work my last nerve.” I’m called to honor and respect God’s image in each of them; after all Jesus washed Judas’ feet.
My main mode of transportation in Chicago is ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) transportation. It’s a shared ride system which means clients are picked up and dropped off who are ideally traveling in the same direction. The smallest miscommunication with the reservationist can send me on an unexpected and undesired tour of Chicagoland. I’m not sure why my rides are so often confused, but they are (I’ll spare you the details). I wonder if the staff lack proper training or do they have the adequate skill set for the task, or perhaps I’m not clear with my request. One thing I know for sure is most of the staff are possessed with a non customer service oriented attitude. And to be honest, the way the talk to each other is not very respectful, not to mention when the clients get involved in the conversation. Rides often resemble a bad soap opera!
So I started thinking about John 3:30, “See more of you and less of me” – I need to show the same respect for them as I would for a person who does their job well. Do they deserve it – NO! But then I don’t deserve the unconditional love and grace God bestows on me daily. I don’t know their context: care for dependent children or elderly parents; trying to “make-ends-meet” with the short rope of low income; juggling multiple jobs; maybe they feel “up will always seem like down.” How can I show the love of God? I must admit I get short tempered with and judgmental of these folks because I’m inconvenienced on a consistent basis . So I have to remember that these people too are made in the image of God and I’m must treat them as brothers and sisters in Christ.
If I’m going to be a chaplain, I don’t think I get to choose when and where. I don’t think I can be “on” all the time, but just giving them the benefit of the doubt and showing a little grace can help them see there is an “upside” to life. Had I not been inconvenienced, their need for grace would not have been laid on my heart. It reminds me that I am called to have the heart of a servant for everyone, most especially for those who provide a service for me.
I’m sure I will continue to be inconvenienced. But then God continues to love me and forgive me on a regular basis. Although I’m not God, I’m made in God’s image and should reflect God’s love. So I pray for the wisdom to understand that every inconvenience is an opportunity to reflect the grace of God by seeing more of God in others and less of my judgmental view.
I find God uses other people to encourage me when I least expect it. I’ve finished mid-terms and a paper and I feel like I’m sitting on a porcupine cushion waiting for the results. Will these grades give any indication of my ability to express God’s love for people during their time of need? I don’t know but I’d like to see the results!
In the meantime, God blessed me with four unexpected events. Two friends sought out my support through prayer and conversation; one for a medical condition and the other regarding her next professional move. After several long conversations with each, where I mostly listened, asked a few questions and offered prayer at the end, I felt amazingly connected not only to my friends but also to God.
I had the great fortune to attend a meeting of deacons from the Diocese of Chicago, and listened to a discussion about how to be with people (and their families) as their lives draw to an end. The wisdom in the room was breath taking as I learned about how to touch someone in a way that gives them control over the moment, listen without the need to add my “two cents,” and ask questions instead of making statements about how they might be feeling. It was a gift of years of mature wisdom and authenticity shared in a room of trusting, like souls.
And last week I had dinner with an old friend who encouraged me by offering introductions to people throughout the city who are involved in health care and may be willing to introduce me to others participating in the ministry of chaplaincy. I didn’t know my friend had those kinds of connections!
So I continue to wait for the posting of grades – it’s been three weeks. In the meantime, my spirit is buoyed through the working of the Holy Spirit and in the persons of my friends, that I’m moving in the right direction and feeling blessed every step along the way.
I started pursuing my soul by not running after it but sitting quietly with it. My journey entailed giving attention to, and gaining knowledge of, who I am (created in the image of God) by spending time with God. Like Jesus I’ve developed a need to go off to a quiet place and have one-on-one simple time with God.
I was part of the support system for Archbishop Desmond Tutu when I worked for The General Theological Seminary (Episcopal) in New York City while he was having cancer treatments. My office was located near the main entrance and most people passed my open door, either going to class or home. There were days when Bishop Tutu returned from treatment and he could barely move his body. He used my office as a respite en route to his apartment. I closed the door on his visits to give him privacy as I soon became aware these visits were not purely social. There were days when we chatted about nothing at all, while other days we just sat together, and I quietly continued my work.
One of my jobs was to give tours to prospective students and on one occasion while I was drilling through the history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, I detected movement in a dark corner. I simply noted someone was praying and concluded my remarks outside the great doors. On subsequent journeys to the chapel during the middle of the day, I observed the same slow, deliberate motion in that still small corner. I later discovered it was Bishop Desmond. I thought, “Of course it is! How could anyone who radiates the love of God with such intensity, not spend concentrated time with God?” I really wanted to ask him, “What do you and God talk about?” But I didn’t want to intrude on his private conversation. Now I think maybe they weren’t talking at all. Perhaps they were just being together enjoying one another in the Kingdom of God.
I used to think the Kingdom of God was a place of golden streets and angelic voices where I could possibly earn admission after I died, if I were really good during my earthly existence. And while I do believe there is an afterlife (I don’t give much attention to the architecture) I also understand the kingdom lives within us. Henri Nouwen describes the kingdom as, “… the place where God’s Spirit guides us, heals us, challenges us and renews us continuously.”
I think I’ll spend some vacation time there.
I’m half way through my first semester at Loyola and just finished a midterm exam for Introduction to Theology and an exegesis paper for New Testament. You may be asking, “What’s an exegesis paper?” It’s when you choose a piece of scripture and examine it from various points of view, i.e. language, socioeconomic, politics, placement in the bible, audience, who is telling the story and what is the moral or point of the story. In other words, it’s context and how it applies to our lives today. It was a great exercise in looking at familiar stories from a different point of view using commentaries from African American and West African theologian. It’s all about the context.
A friend of mine moved to the United States from Puerto Rico during the summer and his four year old loved being outside in the sunshine. When the sun drenched days of summer were replaced with sunny but bone chilling days of winter, his son still wanted to go outside, but it was too cold. With the persistence of a four year old he continually begged his father to let him go outside. Finally his mother said, “Let him out outside, he’ll find out!” Reluctantly, my friend opened the door for his son, who immediately returned exclaiming, “The sun doesn’t work in Chicago!” It’s all about the context.
Today in church I spoke with a friend whose mother died a couple of months ago. I was checking in with her as it’s been my experience that everyone is around immediately following a death, but six months later everyone has forgotten. She said someone recently asked her, “Are you still mourning?” Still mourning! We talked about how you mourn for months and years, as mundane everyday occurrences unearth yet another wave of sorrow. We agreed that no matter how well the intentions, if you haven’t lost a parent, you can’t empathize with the loss. Understanding the process of mourning depends on the point of view or context.
So I’ve decided part of my Lenten discipline is to listen to people who witness life in a different context than my own. Different political views, life style choices and dietary selections (vegan?); and especially those who live in circumstances not of their choice, socioeconomic status, access to education and health care, and – well, the list could go on.
I must admit I watch a lot of television. What can I say, it was the babysitter for my brother and me as children of the ‘50’s and 60’s. So commercials for a particular brand of laundry detergent, furniture polish or car, all are things I had no money to buy, made me feel like I was sitting around with old friends talking about familiar acquaintances. I often urged my mother to buy a particular brand totally unaware of the expensive. I’ve even noticed today children recognize the golden arches or would rather have popcorn out of a sealed brightly colored package rather than the zip-lock bag their mother has filled with the same kernels but bought in an economic size.
So I was wondering what parts of our lives carry brand loyalty. What makes us loyal to a particular soap, sugary snack, or car? I think it’s probably the promises made by the promoters of the items, no matter how extravagant. No more facial wrinkles, finding the right life partner, the sensual you’ll feel when driving a certain car. Under-loved young men living in under-served communities are lured into gangs through the promise of brotherhood; the assurance of someone “having their back.”
Our current social structure has sold us an illusion of what relationships offer. What relationships demand your loyalty; husband, wife, mother, child, sister, brother, devoted friend? It’s easy to wear the brand but when the promise of the relationship is less than we expected, we sometimes look for other brands promising guarantees. Oftem being loyal to a relationship puts us in an uncomfortable position – it may challenge our popularity with others. So then we have to ask ourselves, “What is more important? Standing with my friend or desiring the approval of others.” Supporting a sibling when they veer down, what we perceive as the wrong road is an act of non-judgmental love and the assurance of “having their back”.
This past week someone had the 40 million dollar winning Lotto ticket – AWESOME!! But was this a blessing? Well, I think that depends on the person. Many times we focus on the major occurrences in our lives as blessings; finding the right career, home, friend or lifelong partner. While these are amazing gifts from God, we also equally receive the blessings of a glorious sunrise, the ability to breathe, feeling the rhythm of a jazz quartet, having your spirits lifted by your favorite tune, a warm smile from a stranger or one more day with an aging parent. Daily we are showered with an unbelievable number of gracious gifts from God. And yet they are easily overlooked.
How we respond to the multitude of blessings God bestows on us is our choice. Do we see them? Are we aware of them? Are we even open to the possibility that they exist? We have the freedom to receive the love God shows us or reject it.
I think we forget we are in a relationship with God in which can take what God is offering us or turn a blind eye to it. It’s amazing how much of life we can control. We can learn to embrace life and all it has to offer. Discover the aspects we want to fine tune, for instance, what helps us to control your temper? Can we come to understand the root of impatience is the fear of scarcity? Or perhaps just keep in mind that a kind word to someone can become their daily blessing.
The day to day occurrences in life can be a blessing or curse. Many people who win lotteries file for bankruptcy within five years. They are overwhelmed not only with the money but what they think money can buy them. It certainly can’t buy happiness, but they put their trust in money instead of God.
This week we begin the forty days of Lent. Will we overlook the blessings God gives or take on the discipline of being open them? It’s your choice.
I constantly talk about God’s plan for my life as if it were a blueprint waiting to be constructed. With my limited mind and vocabulary for describing God, that’s the best I can do. But I’ve been wondering – on the most basic level, what is it God’s plan for me? Is it to be happy? Well, I don’t think God plans my emotional state because I have the freedom to choose how I’m going to respond to the many twist and turns of life.
What would be the bare bones of God desires for me in life? Starting with three of God’s promises is a great beginning. First, with each beat of my heart, I know God’s love for me is steadfast, unconditional, unwavering and freely given. (Psalm 92) Two, remembering God will never leave my side regardless of how stormy the environment, the severity of the loss, the depth of loneliness, the brightness of the sun, the stillness of the water, or the joy of a life-giving relationship. (Hebrews 13:5b) And three, “ I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38)
Life’s is full of unpredictable peaks and valleys, detours and interruptions; that’s life! As a Christian I’m not protected from these surprises – bad things happen to faithful people. However, I do have a companion who will coach me in responding to every situation. “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” (Luke 6:31) and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 12:31) If I consistently respond to just these two coaching tips, I will live in God’s glory, feel the warmth of God’s love and find strength and wisdom for this journey called life.
I always like to make declarative statements about where I’m going and what I’m going to do. But I’ve discovered that my ideas are often not the direction God has in mind of me. In my Introduction to Theology and Ministry course I’m reading a book, Faith Seeking Understanding by Daniel Migliore, were he speaks of the personification of God and how we get to know another person through their patterns (habits). One of God’s habits that I’ve become intimately acquainted with is God’s fidelity in reaching goals in surprising ways. My life has been one surprise after another.
For many years I held positions that required extensive travel. The one thing the person who booked my travel knew was I didn’t want change planes in Chicago. I felt O’Hare Airport was big, congested, and the weather in Chicago was so unpredictable I could easily miss my connecting flight or get stuck there for the night. As far as I was concerned, Chicago – O’Hare was in my “no fly zone.”
Well we see what happened – I now live in Chicago. Not only do I fly in and out of O’Hare Airport but most times it’s my only option! I’ve tried to get around it by using Midway Airport, but the flights don’t go where I want to go.
For twenty-two years, it’s been my plea, fervent pray, not to become interested in anything that would require me to return to school. While I enjoy learning, I was not interested in the rigors of another graduate program. And what am I doing? Pursuing a degree a Masters in Pastoral Studies.
So my new discipline is to shut my mouth to making declarative decrees – uh oh, I think I just made one! OK, I will seek to minimize making declarative decrees and continue to open my heart to the God’s steadfast love so graciously and freely given to me, and stay tuned for the surprises.
I think it’s easy to forget that one of God’s characteristic is faithfulness. The Israelites experienced it when they were roaming in the wilderness, lost for forty years, looking for the promise land. They were discouraged and were about to go hungry when God rained manna on them. Now the tricky thing about manna is it’s only good for one day. When they tried to store it, it molded. They couldn’t plant it – it wouldn’t grow.
This was a real test of faith. It was there yesterday, they had manna for the day, but what about tomorrow?
Studying theology is a huge shift from my previous educational endeavors. The amount of reading (I’m not a fast reader or effective scanner) takes a tremendous amount of time. And God has blessed me with the time to do the work. And I praise God for every hour.
One interesting thing about studying theology is the ability to offer constructive criticism on various themes. Whoa – big brain shift for me! I was actually wondering if I had the ability to do this type of critical thinking. Then I received a phone call from a former colleague who expressed how much she missed working with me; especially the analytical questions, she said I always made her think. Manna – just what I needed that day, an uplifting word reminding me I have all I need for the journey.
Where is the manna in your life? I encourage you to look for the daily portion that helps you make it though the day. You might also want to joyfully look for tomorrow’s serving.