I was running to my car in the rain, doing my best to not get completely drenched. The promised wind and rain arrived and that meant traffic would be worse than usual.
Lovely. My shirt and hair were drenched, my glasses smudged, and my shoes squished. I hate seeing patients when I’m little more than a frumpy, wet noodle! Grumbling, I took a deep breath and tried to re-focus. The last visit was very taxing on me emotionally and spiritually. I leaned back against the headrest. And there it was…
One maple leaf, just turning golden, plastered on my windshield. The raindrops around it glistened, and the sun peeked through the clouds, illuminating from behind like a stained glass window.
My car became a cathedral, and my heart was encouraged. God’s Spirit blew in through that mystical moment and lifted me up. “I can do this work… God help me, I can do this!”
Words from Henri Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved came to mind:
The movement of God’s Spirit is very gentle, very soft… but that movement is also very persistent, strong, and deep. It changes hearts radically.
I had multiple reminders that day to stop, rest and see God’s Spirit at work. This was the first of many. There are times my work is exhausting spiritually and emotionally, but God’s Spirit is always there to guide, change, and move.
Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see — how good God is. Blessed are you who run to the Lord. Psalm 34:8 (The Message)
This last week has been a whirlwind. Patients, families, meetings, charting, phone calls, and driving over 750 miles. And that’s just for starters.
The reason I logged all those miles was to attend a committee review of my application to be recognized as a Board-Certified Chaplain through the Association of Professional Chaplains. I’ll spare you the details, (you can go to the link and read all about it), but it has taken me almost five years since I graduated from seminary to achieve this recognition.
Professional chaplains engage in an intensive learning process. It is the process of learning how to use your “self” as a resource; being aware of your strengths, weaknesses, blind spots and potential triggers takes time. Lots of time. It requires prayer, reflection, writing, talking, and applying what you discern. It’s long hours for crap pay (no lie… for one of my placements I earned minimum wage!) It’s trying to understand someone from a radically different background. And always, always ALWAYS listening to the Spirit of the Living God.
So when I came to today’s Photo-a-Day prompt, FORGIVE, I was immediately drawn to search for a photo of Antietam. The bloodiest battle on America’s soil where over 23,000 were killed in a day. In some parts of the United States, the shadows cast by The Civil War are decidedly UNcivil. I was reminded of that fact as I drove around North Carolina. And later today, as I drove up I-95 and saw the huge Confederate flag in full view of I-95. (Read more here.)
It’s true: in some places, the South has not forgiven the North. Funny how that applies to many other issues in the US today…
But it is also a part of my chaplain’s journey, as I have learned to view people who reject my ministry with compassion instead of getting angry. Yes. I’ve been rejected. And many times, I don’t know whether it’s because I am the wrong race, gender, denomination or something else I don’t know! (I’m wearing pants? My head isn’t covered?)
I’ve had to leave a lot of baggage behind. It’s too much emotional and psychological effort to carry all of that extra enmity. I am learning that life is too short, and the world has much to celebrate and cherish.
Family, friends, beauty, joy, hope… all are worth the extra time and energy that I can give them.
A quote I read recently brought it home:
Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace. – Jonathan Lockwood Huie
The Apostle Paul had some good advice about forgiveness too:
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13 NIV)
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32 NIV)
The Mid-Atlantic is not known for supremely cold winters. Oh, we get a “cold snap” here and there in the winter months, but anything that lasts more than a week or two, and the natives get a little restless.
After all, we’re not Buffalo. Or Minnesnowta. We have plows and salt trucks, and it’s not unusual to have to wait a day to get plowed out in our neighborhood.
The last few weeks the temperatures have stayed below 40 degrees. The federal government closed at least once, and schools have been closed or delayed. Even our daughter’s college closed because the roads were not safe.
I know. You’re laughing at us. We accept your disdain. At least we’re honest.
Now it’s been cold long enough that the cumulative effects of the cold are starting to show up. Little by little, I see changes that aren’t “normal” for around here. For instance, I don’t quite remember the color of my car without dried salt spray on it. The back gate is frozen shut. I feel the tension in my shoulders from hunching down into my coat as I go from my car to the facilities and homes where my patients live. And there are very few things which will drag me from home once I’m holding a cat and warming up.
When I drove by this pond near our house and saw the geese scattered across the ice, I wondered at the change. A month ago, even a few weeks ago, the water was open and clear. Normally they would be paddling about, feeding and waddling and honking. Today, they were more like peppercorns spilled over an icy table. Cold. Quiet. Still.
The change was gradual. The result is clear.
In the season of Lent, there is a call to renew the spiritual connection, to find that spark that has diminished and rekindle it. The human heart — my heart — can grow cold and unfeeling.
The words of Keith Green’s song came to mind…
My eyes are dry
My faith is old
My heart is hard
My prayers are cold
And I know how I ought to be
Alive to you and dead to me…
During Lent, I’m about this business of renewal. Remembering the mercy shown me. Living into God’s compassion. Reclaiming the love and fire I have for my work.
Spring will come. My heart will thaw.
I’ll join the song…
Blessed be the Name of the Lord.
I had a long, difficult conversation with someone recently about believing or disbelieving God, and about the role doubt plays in our faith journeys. The conversation was left unresolved, and I have been reflecting on where it could go in the person’s life, or in mine, for that matter.
Reading Mark 9 this morning, I had a kind of Eureka moment… for when I honestly admit my doubts and fears, the Holy Spirit brings me the understanding and space to trust, and for my faith to grow. It sparked this poem/photo reflection.
If you are in that place of doubt, anger, fear or anxiety, God will meet you there. And will be with you, even as you struggle with your unbelief.
May you be at peace…
Jesus said unto him, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” And straightway the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief!” Mark 9:23-24 NKJV
As the last leaf falls
and the wind sweeps it away
do You count them like the fallen sparrow
or the hairs on my head?
As the teardrops flow
and the sighs of pain and sorrow heave
do You catch them all and heal
their ancient pain from a broken world?
As the days grow short
and the night tries conquers the light
will You walk beside me, listening, soothing
and building up my courage?
When my doubts take root
and crowd the edges of my faith
can You once again renew my heart and strengthen my resolve
Family legend states that my mom had a pair of “Godmother Shoes.” They were so-named because one of her progeny reportedly objected to her wearing them by saying, “My GOD, Mother, you’re not going to wear THOSE shoes, are you?”
Mom is a good sport. The shoes were forever nicknamed, and she wore them when she wished.
My pink faux-Crocs (or “Frocs”) fall into this category. However, they are the perfect shoes to slip on when I want to go get the mail, do a quick chore in the yard, or empty the compost bucket. This bright pair of footwear gets the progeny eye-roll every time I wear them. This morning, however, they were just right for a quick stroll around the labyrinth before work. And in pajama pants to boot!
Fall in the labyrinth is lovely. The morning light is stunning. The birds are happily chirping, feeding at our many stations. The rabbits watch from the cover of the forsythia. And there is little background machinery or mosquitos to annoy me as I walk.
This morning I wandered, camera in hand, to capture the loveliness that I saw all around me. The photos helped capture the words in my morning reading of Psalm 86:
Teach me your way, Lord, so that I can walk in your truth. Make my heart focused only on honoring your name. I give thanks to you, my Lord, my God, with all my heart, and I will glorify your name forever, because your faithful love toward me is awesome and because you’ve rescued my life from the lowest part of hell. Psalm 86:11-13 CEB
Here’s a taste of the beauty I could see all around me.