I’ve been writing a lengthy document in preparation for my eventual board certification as a chaplain. One section requires that I give “a fairly complete” history of my life! Pages and pages explaining where I lived, what my family was like, what I studied, and the ways I’ve spent my life so far. I guess if one chooses the vocation of chaplain in one’s 20’s or 30’s, there’s a heckofalot fewer pages for that section.
When I started working on this document earlier this year, I wrestled with how to explain myself. I’ve been on a journey. One that has had plenty of changes and U-turns. One that has always included the needs of my family and friends. One that, for the most part, actually has not been as much about ME as it has been about GOD and ME. And truthfully? It’s been pretty wonderful.
Yeah. There were some sucky years in my 20s. Some hard questions in my 30s. A lot of changes in my 40s. And grace abounding, every step of the way since then.
Unlike many of my peers in chaplaincy, I did not go to a denominational divinity school. I didn’t work in a conventional church setting. I didn’t choose a norm that made sense for many pastors, but was not for me.
At a “dry run” for a certification board, I felt like I had to apologize for the twists and turns in my life… and then I realized it was part of what makes me a great chaplain. I truly DO understand the searching heart, the questioning mind, the mourning spirit. I have sat in a hospital room and been angry at God. I have been fed holy one-liners. I was muzzled by churches which focused on the “jots and tittles” of their theology and ignored the hurting in their midst. I have gone to churches who are “driven” by their “purposes” and found them lacking. I dabbled with Jesus-is-my-happy-place churches. And I’ve wandered into religious settings which were so “open” that intellectual thought fell right out of the bottom.
The bottom line is simply this: I have decided to follow Jesus – not a denomination. And there’s no turning back. I guess I was post-denominational before post-denominational was cool!
A mentor suggested that I go back and re-read Sue Patton Thoele’s “The Courage to be Yourself”. As she put it, “remember why the Holy One led you this way.” What wonderful advice. This sentence leaped out at me:
Uncovering, strengthening, and allowing our authentic self full expression is an ongoing, eternal process, a dance with our soul.
Exactly. My dance is like a polka in 5/4 time. My voice sings fusion jazz over plainsong. My authentic self has lived in Ohio, South Carolina, Florida, New Jersey, Nigeria and Maryland, so I can imitate just about any accent, y’all. My husband and children have enriched and stretched me. Sometimes, yeah, household chores were a drudge. But I tried not to let myself get hung up on owning matching furniture or living in a vacuumed house. I do not feel like I have had to “give up” anything. I have lived, wholeheartedly, where the Holy One has led me. And it’s a joy.
My parents raised us to see what was most important – that we needed to think about our intellectual, emotional, spiritual, psychological, vocational development. They reminded us that it’s not about the stuff. It’s about life. Love. Family. And the Holy One in our midst. Thanks be to God!
I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.” John 15:-9-12 NLT