What cometh before a fall?

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

So says the writer of Proverbs, anyway. (16:18 if you’re playing along for points.)

This evening just before things were completely dark outside, I heard our wind chimes singing mightily in the back yard. I rushed out the back door, grateful the rain had stopped, if only for a moment or two. The chimes were glorious and a fitting “Amen” to a weekend of rain and wind. And then… I hit a slick spot on the slate pavers on our patio and went DOWN in a glorious splat.

Yes. Ow. Very much ow.

IMG_4914I sat there for a moment, the wind knocked out of me, in pain. Nothing appeared broken. The only thing sprained is my dignity (even though no one was there to see my acrobatics, I did have to text my beloved to come and help me stand up, as I was shocked and wobbly.) I left a large dry spot on the slate approximately the size of my backside, and a lovely mossy skid mark on my jeans.

The Proverbs quote came to mind. I don’t believe it was a haughty spirit that caused my butt-first landing. I thought wryly to myself that actually, in this case, inattention came before the fall. Or maybe it was rushing. Or perhaps multi-tasking.

Sometimes stuff just happens. This wasn’t out of meanness. It wasn’t to teach me some cosmic lesson. It was just the cumulative effect of six inches of rain in 3 days on a slate patio.

My pants will wash and I imagine any bruises I’ve collected will fade in a week or two. At the moment, I’m headed for the couch with an ice pack and an afghan and maybe some crocheting. It’s not been the best of weeks, to be honest. But not the worst, either. I’m grateful for friends, for family, for a steadying hand when I need it the most.

Whatever has caused you to fall flat today, may you leave the buttprints behind, and know that the universe is not conspiring against you, either.

A heart song that has been speaking to me this week is this song “You Say” by Lauren Daigle. May it encourage you.

When the Train Leaves the Station Without You

chaplaingearIt was a night where everyone had expectations. But the outcomes were not what they wanted.

There were lots of referrals, several emergencies, and some long conversations with families, patients and staff. But it was also the reason why I am a chaplain — to be present and a companion to those in a health crisis. I’m not there to pick buttercups and play with puppies (though I confess I like to see the therapy dogs as much as the patients do!)

I know when I start my shift that there will be questions, issues and frustrations. Sometimes it is the result of unrealistic expectations. Outcomes from surgery or from a procedure won’t yield the easy-fix results they were hoping to see. A routine visit to the doctor leads to an alarming lab test, and then a devastating diagnosis.

I mused about this as I handed off the pager and RF phone to the relieving chaplain. I headed home tired and pretty done in. On this particular morning, I decided to commute home from work via the Washington Metro system.

Luck was not with me that morning. I missed the first train at MetroCenter, and then the second train had to be off-loaded because of door issues. Then there was the “next train” sign which stayed looking like this for 20 minutes:

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YUCK!! It was NOT the commute I had anticipated. Instead of a 90 minute train and bus ride, it inflated to 2 1/2 hours.

The train left the station without me.  And the anticipated easy commute was not what it was supposed to be.

I thought of my patients…

The train left the station…

The patient that came in after ignoring her symptoms… It was too late and the cancer that had metastasized.

The chest pain that was not exertional asthma, but a serious heart attack.

The “being in the wrong place at the wrong time” bystander with a gunshot wound.

The stupidly-drunk “let’s surf the escalator” patient. (Google it. It’s dumb to try sober. Let alone highly intoxicated.)

These moments of unexpected illness and injury all resulted in questions of “WHY ME?” and “WHY NOW?” (The ultimate in rhetorical questions, and yet, incredibly existential at the same time.)

Sometimes life goes off without a hitch. Many times it does not. How we cope and move through these moments is frequently determined by our faith and our ability to see “big picture.”

The key word here is MOVE. The train doesn’t stay stuck in the tunnel all night. The bus will arrive. The interruptions to “life as we know it” will come, but it means that we have to walk through them (sometimes be carried through them.)

The train left the station…

I could wish for one of those cool MiB cars that fly upside down through tunnels (with Elvis playing!) and help my patients overcome every obstacle. It doesn’t work that way.

So wherever you are when you read this, and whatever you are experiencing… My prayer is that you will find that place of centered hope and peace and strength to get through your present dilemma. God knows… and hears… and walks it with us.

Worn by Tenth Avenue North

Friday Five: Priesthood

DSC_0175When I took this picture, I was fascinated by the push of the stream and the intention of the water to MOVE down the mountain. Rocks? Trees? Plants? No problem.

The leading and guiding of God in my life has been the same. Where I have seen obstacles, God has made a way. And I have not traveled without a lot of help and love. And that’s what this Friday Five is all about.

–~o0o~–

Mary Beth writes:

I’ve just finished a great little book by L. William Countryman called Living on the Border of the Holy: Renewing the Priesthood of All.

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Find it on Amazon

Countryman suggests that not only do all Christians have a ministry, but all of us have a priesthood. The “priesthood of all believers” comes to mind, and he takes that farther to suggest that humanity shares a ‘universal human priesthood’.  Every human has the capacity to encounter and then pass on something of transcendent significance.

For today, think back over your life, and share about five (or more) who have been priests in your life (or ministers, pastors, whatever language is comfortable for you). In sharing, know that names are not necessary.

So there’s ANOTHER book for my “to-read” list, I think…

It’s hard to limit this lineage of “priests” to just five! But, it’s worth reflecting on the ways that God has shaped and led me on this transforming journey of Life. I suppose if I created this list at another point in my life, it would be quite different. This is what comes to mind today…

1. My Parents: Encouraged, coaxed, demanded and nurtured the independent Spirit within me. All the while expecting and demanding that I give my best. When I was a slacker, we all knew it. Whether or not I admitted it. By extension, I’ll add my family: Ken, Beth, Cj; and my sibs: Bobby, Lynn, Becky, Carol, Claudia and David. The hardest place to live out your faith is in your family. I am so grateful for the ways they have been there for me and stretched my possibilities.

2. My High School Piano Teacher: After a disastrous year in music school, (one where I almost quit), my parents encouraged me to go back for summer piano lessons with him. He was aghast at the repertoire that I had been assigned (far beyond my capabilities and interest) but gave me some much needed affirmation. I was a musician. I could play piano. I did have a heart and soul to pour into my performances. I passed my next “jury” (finals in music school) and went to a new piano professor.

3. My prayer partner and balcony friend, Dana: We worked with youth together, praying for our families and our respective callings. We were in seminary together, crying and laughing over Greek and Hebrew, hermeneutics, preaching class and all of those “-ologies”.  We don’t see each other as frequently these days, but we are still  there to cheer each other on, and we believe in God’s working in each other.

4. My CPE Supervisors, mentors and cohorts:  I was fortunate to have good supervisors and cohorts. We were of different faiths, experiences and beliefs. Sometimes the experiences we went through were hellish. But we learned how to listen to each other, challenge each other, laugh with each other, and hone each other’s gifts and skills. I stay in touch with some of them (thank you, Facebook and LinkedIn) and am grateful for their continued grace in my life.

This is a hard one, but it’s true…

5. The doubters and adversaries I have faced: I still kind of want to stick out my tongue at them and say “SEE? I TOLD you so!” But in the places where they have intentionally been obstructionist or (to put it politely) unkind, I have seen God make “streams in the desert.” Not the way I would have imagined, and not in the places or roles I would have chosen. In spite of “the haters” I have come into “my own shoes” as one of my mentors would say. (And that’s a new blog post in itself!)

I am learning to rest and trust in the Shepherd of my heart and soul. These folks and many more have helped me in these lessons.

TBTG!

 

A Star Word Reflection on VITALITY: Moving to more fertile ground

We are in the lush, greening season of late spring and early summer. My flowers and herbs have been flourishing (though I did have to replant my oregano and rosemary due to winter kill). The daffodils and jonquils were spectacular and the lilacs bloomed for the first time.

Now I’m reveling in the lovely growth of the wisteria over the pergola…

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The beauty of the first rose of the season…

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And the parade of irises under the dining room window…

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For the first time, these irises bloomed, largely because I moved them out of the “deer grazing zone” and into a more protected flower bed in the back yard.

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They are lovely, aren’t they? It’s amazing what finding a new, safe place to grow will do!

My irises came to mind as I’ve been meditating on my “star word” for 2014,  VITALITY.  I’ve pondered those things that help me grow, and the growing environment where I thrive.

I am very aware that there are some times in my life where I have “tolerated” where I was planted, but did not grow, either because I was entry-level in my field, or because I was afraid to launch out and try my wings. I put down roots. I went through seasons, growing and dying back, warmed and frozen.

Then there’s the times where I’ve been in an inhospitable climate. Simply put, I was in a place where my attempts to grow and change were nibbled back. To be clear, I made choices to stay in that kind of situation. I could have left. I didn’t. At least, not immediately.

As I move forward in my career, I am aware that a good work environment has a number of factors which contribute to its hospitable-ness — the management philosophy, the worldview of the leadership, the valuation of the workers themselves, and most importantly, the variety and diversity of the workers.

I continue to grow, thrive and be surprised at what God will do. Kind of like my irises… I surprise even myself.  I was reminded that each wobbly step I take, each attempt I make, God is always there.

The waters have been deep at times. And yet, when the next step has been “into the great unknown” I have known God’s love and empowering.

This is no small thing. In fact, it’s life-changing.

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fall
And there I find you in the mystery
In oceans deep, my faith will stand

And I will call upon your name
And keep my eyes above the waves

When oceans rise my soul will rest in your embrace
For I am yours
You are mine…

From Oceans (Where Feet May Fall) by Hillsong United.

What now, God?

There are times in chaplaincy when, outside of the medical treatment team, I have an inkling of the storm that is ahead. While I am not a diagnostician, and I surely am not educated in the ins and outs of prognosis, there are moments, nevertheless, where I see and perceive that change is coming.

Like many chaplains, I want to support patients and families at all points in their medical journey, not just at the crisis points. However, the crises are where we are needed and our skills are most often applied. I am grateful for every encounter, every opportunity, to offer hope and prayer and perspective, such as I perceive it in my limited way.

In these moments, as the crisis looms and the storm is about to break, I pray. This photo was taken one evening as we waited for the thunderstorm to reach the beach house where we were staying. The parallels with my chaplaincy were pretty clear. And so was the Eternal promise of security, peace, and protection.

~–o0o–~

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I watch and wait.
There is nothing I can do.
The “problem” isn’t mine to address.
The solution is beyond the scope of my care.

I see the storm brewing.
I feel the breeze quicken.
I watch the first raindrops fall;
I suggest that we look at the forecast.

I am ignored…

I search the skies
to find the heart of God,
to hear the voice or hope,
to gain wisdom.

There is silence…

There are times it is so hard
to just “walk away” —
but I do.

There is something I will do, though: I pray.

Dear Lord,

You know what unremitting pain is like.

You know how it feels to be abandoned. You know.
You have been and are Present
for those who suffer.

Shine Your light. Dispel the darkness. Shower Your grace. Bring Your peace.

Please give me words to speak. And until it is time, May I be…

Silent.

Amen

 

I offer these lyrics for reflection. (I’m not so much a fan of the music for this one…)

On My Way Home by Enya

I have been given
One moment from heaven
As I am walking
Surrounded by night,
Stars high above me
Make a wish under moonlight.

On my way home
I remember
Only good days.
On my way home
I remember all the best days.
I’m on my way home
I can remember
Every new day.

I move in silence
With each step taken,
Snow falling round me
Like angels in flight,
Far in the distance
Is my wish under moonlight.

Forgiven as we forgive…

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During Lent my church is thinking through The Lord’s Prayer. It has been very meaningful and thought-provoking. This week the focus was on “forgiving our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”

It was Providential timing.

When I got home from church, I read in my newsfeed that Fred Phelps, Sr., the founder of Westboro Baptist, was near death. The man who has led his church in picketing the funerals of war veterans and LGBTQ events now faces the end of his life. Should we show up at HIS funeral with signs that say, “God hates Fred!”? Various punsters and commentators have made smart remarks suggesting this. And part of me, quite honestly, understands that sentiment. When people dump a world of hurt on others, it is really hard to be empathetic.

But then I remembered our study Sunday morning… And my daily Lenten reading included these words of Christ from Luke 6:

27 “But I say to you who are willing to hear: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other one as well. If someone takes your coat, don’t withhold your shirt either. 30 Give to everyone who asks and don’t demand your things back from those who take them. 31 Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you.

32 “If you love those who love you, why should you be commended? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, why should you be commended? Even sinners do that. 34 If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, why should you be commended? Even sinners lend to sinners expecting to be paid back in full. 35 Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. If you do, you will have a great reward. You will be acting the way children of the Most High act, for he is kind to ungrateful and wicked people. 36 Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.

37 “Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good portion—packed down, firmly shaken, and overflowing—will fall into your lap. The portion you give will determine the portion you receive in return.”

Let’s be clear. I do not condone the actions of Rev. Phelps or the church he started. To me they are the antithesis of demonstrating the saving love and grace of God. Their words have hurt many families of veterans. They have been brutal in their verbal attacks on GLBQT individuals and groups. It is far too easy to condemn their actions. I ponder why it is, even with the Spirit of God living within us, that we can be so mean and evil to one another in the name of Christ.

So, if we were to demonstrate love to the Phelps family, what would it look like? Meals for the family? Donations in their name to a HIV clinic? A scholarship in Queer studies? Picketing with a sign that says, “For God so loved Fred that He gave His only son…”

I ponder these things, and consider the hurts that I have experienced from the words and actions of others. I am no better than Fred, if I am honest. I have been harassed. I have been hurt by the misogynist remarks of those who do have insulted my Call and ministry. And I have retaliated by angry, mean-spirited remarks and actions of my own. No, I haven’t picketed a funeral. But I’m still no better.

The question that God asks me is this: Would you go and be a chaplain to Fred?

Yes… I would, much as I would find it distasteful. Or I would try to, anyway. If they would not accept my ministry to them, I would find a quiet room for them to grieve privately and make funeral plans.

Martin Luther King is quoted as saying:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

As I reflected on this situation and read over the verses from Luke 6, I began to pray. It’s a simple prayer… but heart felt.

There’s a world full of darkness out there.
Lord, let me be Your Light…

Every secret, every shame, every fear, every pain
Live inside the dark
But that’s not who we are
We are children of the day

So wake up sleeper, lift your head
We were meant for more than this
Fight the shadows conquer death
Make the most of the time we have left

We are the Light of the world
We are the city on a hill
We are the Light of the world
We gotta, we gotta, we gotta let the Light shine

We are called to the spread the news
Tell the world the simple truth
Jesus came to save, there’s freedom in His name
So let His Love break through…

Living in the “yes” and the “no”

In September, I saw a job posting. It was an on-line application as most are these days. I have gotten used to filling out these forms and never hearing from a real-live human being from “Human” Resources. It seems as though your resume goes into some kind of “cosmic Shredder”…

To my delight, I had a first round interview. And then a second. And then an on-site tour and interview (which took most of a day.) And finally, I was invited back to preach during Advent.

I felt a stir of hope… Maybe this would be the job. It combined all of my experience and education in healthcare, music, worship, pastoral care and chaplaincy. It was a short commute from our home. And it was an opportunity to live out my Call with like-minded coworkers. I felt welcomed, affirmed and wanted. I knew that I had represented myself well as the person God made me to be.

And the job went to someone else.

In the middle of Christmas shopping with my daughters, I got a phone call… “While we found you to be highly qualified and skilled…. We listened to the feedback of the staff and residents who experienced you. We went with the other candidate because it was a better fit.”

photo-108Fortunately I was sitting down. My heart began to race. I felt hurt and blindsided. Hot tears welled up in my eyes, which I quickly squelched so as not to spoil our shopping trip. How could I have thought it was going so well when it obviously was not? What in hell did I miss?

I texted my husband and family and a few close friends. “No… I didn’t get the job…” I put my phone on silent and went back to shopping. I kept it together (barely) until the drive home, as tears began to leak and my cheeks were wet with angry tears.

What the hell does “a better fit” mean? I felt like a personality reject. Like I was the Susan Lucci of chaplaincy job searchers. Passed over once again. It seemed as though I was living in a sitcom dating relationship that went sour. “It’s not you, it’s us…”

In the days since that phone call (two days before Christmas? Nice…) I’ve had a chance to get some perspective. I know what I do and can offer an organization. This one just wasn’t meant to be. Whether it was personal, political or theological, it really doesn’t matter.

One kind person said, “Oh, I thank God that you were steered around an obstacle to your best self.”

Pardon me while I pay our cat to puke in your shoes…

And seriously, no thanks to the well-meaning individual who sent me the link to “When You Don’t Get That Job: 10 Things You Probably Did Wrong.”

The truth is, I didn’t do anything wrong. Was I perfect? No, but nothing disastrous happened as referenced in the article. This wasn’t an issue of competence or interview skills. In pastoral positions, it’s more about “the Call.”

The Calling has to be mutual. Both sides need to sense this “holy pull”. “They” have to be as excited about my joining their community as I am about working with them. I have been in situations where I desperately tried to make myself fit. I’m done with that. I know who I am, strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures. I also know that my career path has been full of jigs and jags, but not once has God led me astray, especially when I pray with a yielded, willing heart, “Lord, put me where YOU want me.”

So I am living in the “yes” and) the “no.” I’ve sat with my Spiritual Director, prayed, listened and prayed some more. I’ve gotten the counsel of wise folks, and absorbed their comments. It has not been easy. But it has been a necessary task.

I’m confident that this work, Pastoral Care, Chaplaincy, Community Pastor, Hospice, Palliative Care (whatever you want to label it) is my life’s “yes.” I’ve wrestled that through, and even with this “no” I know that I am indeed on the right path. I’m persevering.

Because, you see, even Susan Lucci got her Emmy after years of being passed over. My time, at God’s time, will come.

Thanks be to God.