Thursday, March 31, 2011

Gratitude Journal - Day 23

This morning I am grateful for the return of the spring peepers. 
They've been back for about a week but it wasn't until last night that their symphony launched into full swing. I love falling asleep to their peeping at night and equally love hearing them in the early morning hours as the sun just begins to rise. 
I thought we lost them a few years back, when the city came in and razed all the trees in the wetlands next to our house. The trees were sacrificed so the small planes landing at our local airport would have a safer approach, but it was heartbreaking to have the peepers silenced in the midst of all that destruction. 

But the next spring they came back.
And they've been back ever since.
And as I learned in the above video, peepers are hearty little guys and gals. They don't die out or hibernate over the winter, they simply crawl under the leaves and freeze solid. They have an internal antifreeze system that allows them to thaw in the spring and literally come back to life! 

If that's not an Easter moment, I don't know what is.  :)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Gratitude Journal - Day 22

Today I am grateful for Ecclesiastes....

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

 What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover, he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Gratitude Journal - Day 21

Today I am grateful that I am off from school and home all week for spring break.
With no classes to attend I finally have time to kick back and do the following:

  • Read 3 books on Buddhism and write a paper for next Monday
  • Read a novel for my Pastoral Care with Addictions class
  • Get started on my Biblical Ecology paper
  • Go to an AA meeting as an observer for my Addictions class and write a reflection paper
  • Drive to Shelton CT today and get a TB test for CPE
  • Drive back to Shelton on Thursday to get the TB test read (and return next week to do it all over again)
  • Prepare the final draft of my Ordination Paper for the Committee on Ministry
  • Keep working on my Ministerial Profile (and wait to find out when I can start circulating it to find a job)
  • Pick up Stephanie's dry cleaning
  • Buy a new vacuum because our Dyson gave up the ghost
  • Use said vacuum to finally clean the house
  • Drive back to Boston on Friday for a UCC Mass. Conference Search and Call event
  • Sleep
  • Eat
  • Play with the cat

Ahhhh....Spring Break.....don't you just love getting time off?!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Gratitude Journal - Day 20

Today I am grateful for a splash of color amidst the Lenten gloom. 
Each day that I go out for a walk or a run I notice that more and more bits of green are starting to push their way through the softening soil.
I've even seen a dash of purple here and there.
In anticipation of the spring flowers that will soon brighten our days, here's a taste of what's to come.
Set to the music of one my favorite songs by Enya, China Roses.

"I know that if I have heaven
there is nothing to desire.
Rain and river, a world of wonder
may be paradise to me."

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Gratitude Journal - Day 19


I am grateful for the woman at the well,
       who asked Jesus, "Where do you get that living water?"
I am grateful for the wandering exiles who quarreled with Moses,
       demanding, "Give us water to drink!"
I am grateful for the Psalmist, who raised his hands to God,
        singing, "The sea is his, for he made it!"
I am grateful for St. Paul, who wrote to the suffering Roman church,
        assuring them, "God's love has been poured into our hearts."

I am grateful for the questioners, the complainers, the praisers, and the pastors,
         for we have all at one time, and at the same time, been there, done that.
We all have been dogged by a thirst that we can not quench.
We all have been lost at sea, surrounded by more water then we know what to do with.
We are at the same time parched and saturated; dried up and drowning.

But the water that we seek, the thirst that we seek to quench, has nothing to do with the liquid that flows out of our taps...or is lifted up from our wells.

"Where do you get that living water?" the woman asked.
And Jesus replied,
"Those who drink of the water that I will give them, will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life."

We are created from dust, and to dust we shall return, but in our living, human form we are surrounded by the hydrating force of God's love. 

It flows over our bodies and seeps into our pores.
     In its stream we will never drown,
         and we will thirst no more.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Gratitude Journal - Day 18

Today I am grateful for the promise that God offers us each and every day.
The promise of love, grace, joy, forgiveness, fulfillment.
The promise of life. 
The promise of renewed life. 

I'm reminded of the promise that God made to Sarah. 
How she laughed when told she was destined to become a "Mother of nations" the still young age of 90.

The Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor, as usual, said it best in her book, Gospel Medicine:

         "It is a hard thing, to believe in a promise - to live by it, day after day, to see it in the night sky and hear it in your name and see it again as your lover's eyes.  It is a hard thing to believe in a promise with no power to make it come true.  Everything is in the future tense - the land, the son, the blessing. Everything will happen, by and by, but in the meantime what is there to live on now?

          And yet. What better way to live than in the grip of a promise, and a divine one at that?  Who in her right mind would give that back?  To wake every morning to the possibility that today might be the day.  To remain wide awake all day long, noticing everything - the way the shade of the olive tree processes from west to east, and how the smell of the fields changes from green grass to yellow hay as the sun heats up overhead.  To search the face of every stranger in case it turns out to be an angel of God.  To take nothing for granted.  Or to take everything as granted, though not yet grasped.  To handle every  moment of one's life as a seed of promise and to plant it tenderly, never knowing if this moment, or the next, may be the one that grows. 

          To live like that is to discover that the blessing is not future but now.  The promise may not be fully in hand.  It may still be on the way, but to live reverently, deliberately, and fully awake - that is what it means to live in the promise, where the wait itself is as rich as its end.  All it takes are some regular reminders, because as long as the promise is renewed, the promise is alive, as vivid as a rainbow, as real as the million stars overhead."

Friday, March 25, 2011

Gratitude Journal - Day 17

Today I am grateful to be home.
But I am sad that Katie is no longer here to greet me when I walk in the door. 
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted" - (Mt. 5:4)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Gratitude Journal - Day 16

Today I am grateful that for having this space in which to express myself...and for finding release in the written word.
I am grateful that through circumstance, choice, and the luck of the genetic draw I have managed to avoid the more harmful forms of release that have come to vex so many - that is overindulgence in drink, drugs, cigarettes, food, gambling, shopping, sex, and the many other ways that we as human beings have found to numb ourselves to the pains of living.

I am no better than anyone else because I lack these vices.
And those who suffer these vices are no less (im)perfect then those of us who don't.
I am simply grateful that at very young age I developed an addiction to the written word, and that I was too much of an introverted nerd to be exposed to much of anything else.

I'm also grateful that the only negative effect of my verbosity is that I tend to write 4,000 words when my professors require only 500.
But who's counting?


The words came out of me
I could not stop them
I tried holding them in
   Pushing them down
      Hiding them away
But they would not rest
They pushed and strained and twisted inside of me
Like a lion confined in a too small cage.

I tried to appease them
Feeding them with fantasy
Distracting them, fleetingly, with imagined freedom
But they would not stay satiated for long
They wanted, needed, to escape from the prison 
      into which I had forced them.
These words that came out of me.

I would find no peace until they were spoken,
    this I knew.
Yet I held on as tightly as is humanly possible.
But one never wins,
    in a tug of war with God.

     God’s will
We cannot fight it
   is futile.

All I could do was throw up my hands
And throw open my heart
God had willed it
    and I had no choice but to obey.

The words came out of me,
   and now I,
      lie shattered in their wake.
These words tore a hole in my life
   and in the life of another, and another.
Emotions and hopes and dreams flung violently in the air
Where they will land – for me – for all - I do not yet know.

I have fulfilled my part of the covenant.
I spoke the words
I lit the fuse, ignited the flame,
    pushed the button marked “IMPLODE”
Now I must go about the messy business of picking up the pieces
And accept that, despite my wants, my wishes, my will,
    I will not be building here.

The blueprints I held in my hands have crumbled to dust.
I am not the architect of this plan
    I am just the button pusher
        The catalyst
The one who blows apart what has fallen into disarray.
What is built in its place, is not up to me.
But I have to trust, that what is built,
    will be beautiful indeed.

I spoke the words,
     but they have not yet been fully released.
They hang in the silent space between their recipient and myself.
Tethered to my soul by guilt, regret, and remorse.
On occasion I stretch out my hands to try and snatch them back,
     but they pass through my fingers like smoke dissolving in air.

I cannot take them back.
I cannot repair the damage, however necessary, that has been done.
I cannot ask the question,
Why did God WILL me to do this?
Why would God bring two together,
   only to tear them apart?
Why does God require a walk through pain,
    before finding joy?

I cannot ask these questions,
   because I can never know the answers.
So instead I let them sit
And willfully endure the dull ache of grief
  that is pressing against the inside of my skull,
      rolling around in the pit of my stomach,
and begging for release
   from the wounded heart that lies in my chest.

The words came out of me,
I could not stop them.
God pulled them from me.

Now I must trust,
   have faith, have hope,
that God will fill the hole
    that has been left behind.
That God will turn over the rubble,
   and build a garden, or two, or three.
And the words that I spoke out of love,
   will one day return,
       and find their home in me. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Gratitude Journal - Day 15

Today I am grateful for this devotional shared by a fellow student in class.
It is attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe S.J.

~ * ~

Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way.  What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.  It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.  Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.     
~ * ~

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Gratitude Journal - Day 14

Today I am grateful for being held in prayer in the presence of others.
This morning I walked into a session with my Spiritual Direction group with a growing knot of uncertainty and grief over a recent loss pulling at my insides....and I walked out of the session two hours later feeling at peace.
Not only because I was able to release that grief and uncertainty in the caring and compassionate presence of friends and a trained Spiritual Director, but because I was able to be present for others in the group when they did the same.
Never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit.
God is with us, always.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Gratitude Journal - Day 13

Tonight I am grateful for a busy and rewarding day.
For a morning class on Buddhism that had me imagining what it would be like to live in a world without desires.
For an afternoon class on Pastoral Care with Addictions that taught me how to offer hope to those who have a disease that causes them to give in to their desires, again, and again, and again.
And for an evening spent at the induction ceremony for the Jonathan Edwards Society, our school's honor society - which satisfied a desire I've had since returning to school ten years ago: the desire to receive recognition for my achievements.

I feel honored and blessed for having received the nomination.
But it would be dishonest not to acknowledge that receiving honors like this makes me feel good.
It feels good to have others validate what I've otherwise had to take on faith - that I have what it takes to lead a congregation.
It's not about the good grades - the church that hires me is not going to care about my seminary GPA; it's about the part that says I have "demonstrated capacity for leadership in church and community".
That's the part that I still have doubts about.
That's the part that I "desire" to have recognized because I have trouble seeing it within myself.

Desires can be good or bad.
Desires are good if they cause you to become a better person, student, pastor, partner, friend, Christian, child of God.
Desires are bad if they cause you to do the opposite.

Ironically, Jonathan Edwards knew a lot about such desires....He is after all, best known for his sermon entitled "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" in which "God holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire."

Thank you Jonathan, for lending your name to the honor society that has recognized my desires.
I hope I do you proud.

A politically correct Jonathan Edwards

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Gratitude Journal - Day 12

Pennsylvania Day 3....and back to Boston.
Tonight I am grateful to be back at school after a fulfilling weekend away....but I am most grateful for the shift in perspective that this weekend has brought. 

I left school on Friday weighed down by thoughts of midterm papers, class reading that needs to get done, my upcoming chaplaincy internship, and a heap of non-school related worries and sorrows. 
And I returned home today uplifted by thoughts of writing my ministerial profile, entering the search and call process, and giving serious consideration to what kind of church I might be called to lead.....and where.

It may seem as if I'm getting ahead of myself...again. 
I still have 61 days until graduation and a whole summer to get through. 
But this weekend, for the first time, I felt like the preparatory phase of this journey is nearing an end, and soon this 'ministry' thing that I've been playing at will become a reality. 
It's time to start taking those final steps. 
And God willing, those steps will lead to a call. 

And when I think about that call, all the other stuff....the stuff that has been weighing me down....just melts away. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Gratitude Journal - Day 11

Pennsylvania Day 2.
Today I am grateful for a day to indulge my seminarian geekiness.
To move from a community breakfast of eggs and oatmeal to morning worship where we emphatically waved our hands in the air to "Rise and Shine and Give God the Glory, Glory!"
To attending a workshop on filling out a ministerial profile and plenaries on surviving our first call and understanding the UCC pension plan (and to manage to stay awake during the latter).
After eating way too much food at lunch, I attended a workshop that discussed the five different spiritual/theological types that members of our congregations tend to be - and discovered that I have a split spiritual personality.
I fall evenly into both category A and B - I am an Optimistic Mystic who seeks to merge with the transcendent God and who prefers "other worldly" types of worship (smells and bells) while at the same time keeping one foot planted firmly in this world in the belief that we have the power to make it a better place.
This is what happens when the UCC invites former Catholics into their ranks.
You get more candles in worship, but you also get another set of hands to help out at the soup kitchen.
And for that I am grateful.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Gratitude Journal - Day 10

Today I am grateful for the opportunity to travel to Pennsylvania for a gathering of UCC seminarians.
Three days of workshops, worship, and socializing with other folks who are crazy enough to be walking this path. The best part is that we get all this plus three days of room and board for $60. You can't beat that!
My favorite plenary session title: "What I wish I'd done differently in seminary to prepare myself for ministry" - led by local pastors. I'm sure that topic alone would easily fill the three days.

I'm also grateful for the six+ hours that I will spend in the car today just getting there.
Good friends + good conversation = joy!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Gratitude Journal - Day 9

Today I am grateful for the wonderful folks in my Spiritual Formation Group.
 For the last two semesters I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with a group of first year students as they learn the art of discernment through the exploration of a variety of spiritual practices.
In today's session we did Centering Prayer and Clearness Committees ( a Quaker practice). I continue to be amazed at how much of themselves these students bring to our meetings. Despite being bogged down in the uncertainty and overwhelming workload that is the life of a first year seminarian, these folks show up to our little group every month and participate fully. 
Many of them are just coming from class or need to rush off to class afterward, and some forego eating lunch to make our 12:30 start time. Yet they always express appreciation for the hour and a half of stillness, reflection, and prayer that our time together gives them.  
I know I appreciate it. 
These folks fill me up.  
And for that I am grateful.  

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Gratitude Journal - Day 8

Today I am grateful for....fulfilling distractions.

For a morning spent wrestling with the question, "WHO is God?" and then contemplating how all our attempts to answer this question miss the mark by a thousand miles.

For a lunchtime meeting with my "havruta" group - a study group made up of seminarians and rabbinical students - where we discussed our thoughts on the above question.

For our Wednesday Community Chapel service, where we sang some good ol' Baptist hymns, listened to the Word of God from the Gospel of John, and contemplated how we're all called to be "born again" - resurrected to a new life...again, and again, and again.

For an afternoon spent reading Wendell Berry, where he describes the Bible as being "a book open to the sky. It is best read and understood outdoors, and the farther outdoors the better."

For an early evening spent in my Biblical Ecology class, where we will discuss the creation stories of Genesis and the implications of the Scopes trial - where science and religion converge.

For an evening meal with my classmates, where we will no doubt discuss the nuances of Systematic Theology and the believability of Gilligan's Island...(why did Mrs. Howell pack all that luggage for 3-hour tour?)

Fulfilling distractions are good.
They keep me from fretting over the past, and worrying about the future.
They keep me in the here and now.
And for that, I am grateful.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Gratitude Journal - Day 7

Today I am grateful for the wisdom of others.

Yesterday our Pastoral Care with Addictions class went on a field trip to a local hospital to talk to the pastoral care team that works in the addictions unit. They had much to share with us about the challenges and joys of caring for the spirits of those trapped under the weight of addictions, and we had much to learn, but there was one kernel of wisdom in particular that stuck out for me.
One of the chaplains noted that it's important to recognize that guilt and shame have two different functions. And most people with addictions carry a boatload of both.
She described it this way:

Guilt is like having the gentle yet firm hand of a friend on your back. Guilt tells you, "Things can be different, you need to make a change, it's going to be painful but don't worry, I'll be here for you."
Shame is like having two hands on your shoulders, pushing you down into the ground. Shame tells you, "You're not worthy of redemption, you're never going to feel whole, you may as well just give up."

She then added:

"As a pastor, ask yourself, which set of hands are you?"

This is a question that we all need to ask.
We're all pastors in life, to each other and to ourselves.
Our actions may cause us to feel guilt, but it's often that feeling of guilt that spurs us to make try and right the wrong that we have take a step towards wholeness.
Shame on the other hand only serves to hold us in place....immobilized and fearful....with our backs turned away from what is healthy and whole.

Every day we have the chance to minister to each other, and to minister to ourselves, because we all carry the brokenness of something we've done, said, or feel.
And as we wrestle with our own brokenness, and encounter the brokenness of others, we should remember to ask ourselves:

Which set of hands are you?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Gratitude Journal - Day 6

Today I am grateful for the health and safety of myself and all of my loved ones.
This morning's news is full of stories of the continuing devastation in Japan.
2,000 bodies washed ashore, another 10,000 people missing, and that's just in one city. There's a continued threat of a nuclear meltdown as a damaged reactor is rocked by a second explosion. And the pictures documenting the damage are surreal. Upturned cars sitting on top of three story buildings. A full-size yacht perched on top of another building. Airplanes and boats stacked on top of each other like scattered toys. Entire towns wiped out of existence.

We've seen this kind of devastation before. In Haiti, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, China, and numerous other countries that have been rocked by earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, fires, and floods.
Those of us watching the stories unfold thousands of miles away in the comfort of our living rooms may feel the urge to change the channel. There's only so much devastation that we can take. We may cross ourselves and say "there but for the grace of God go I" but other than donate to the Red Cross and other disaster relief funds there's not much else we can do. As human beings we have a limited capacity to absorb the pain and suffering of others. When we're bogged down in the worries and concerns of our family, friends, neighbors, communities, cities, states, and country, it's hard to make room on our plate for the worries and concerns of an entire world.
Especially when we're faced with the devastation of natural disasters.
These tend to throw us off-kilter. There's no one to blame, no one to hate, no one for us to shake our finger at and say, "You're going to pay for this!"
We like to have an enemy that we can see, that we can keep track of. We don't like the fact that the very ground we walk on can in an instant rise up and tear our lives apart.

One of my professors here at seminary proposed an interesting theological understanding of natural disasters. No...they are not restitution for the sins of humanity (sorry Pat Robertson) but rather they are examples of the chaos that God allows to exist in creation. These seemingly random events don't fit into our grid of "how things are supposed to work" so we're naturally puzzled by them. Why would a God who professes to love us allow an event to occur that wipes 200,000 people off the face of the earth in one fell swoop? Because God gave creation the gift of free will....and when you allow for free will you have to allow for chaos.

We get stuck here because we think that only human beings - and some animals - have the ability to exercise free will, but God built free will into the entirety of creation.
God has a covenant with humanity: We do our best to follow the rules - including the commandment to love God, self, and neighbor - and God gives us the leeway to express ourselves via free will.
Well, what if God has a covenant with all of creation?
The tectonic plates that we walk upon are covenanted to follow the laws of physics, but that means every now and then they're allowed to slip, releasing the pressure that has built up from years of holding themselves still.
Just as we have the God given will to express ourselves, the created world has the will to express itself - and reshape itself - through fires, floods, earthquakes, and other natural events. We call them "disasters" only when we happen to find ourselves caught in the middle of it.

But is this any different then when we decide to leave the marked path and kick through the tall grass, disturbing hundreds of ecosystems and wiping out the carefully built structures of insects, perhaps killing untold numbers of them with each footfall?
Just as we step on an anthill with no thought given to what we have done, the earth shakes itself with no thought given to the welfare of the tiny creatures perched on its back.

There's no one to blame, there's no divinely hatched plan to make us pay for our iniquities.
Part of living in creation is living with the unpredictability of creation.
And in the aftermath, we shed our tears, bury our dead, lift up our neighbor, pick up our lives, rebuild our homes, and go on living, while all along expressing gratitude to God for giving us the gift of life. 
Because that's all that we can do.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Gratitude Journal - Day 5

Today I am grateful for the view from my third-floor dorm room windows.
The snow is finally gone and the canvas is bare, waiting for spring to come. 

For three years I've had this view ~ of the quad, the faculty offices, the classrooms, and the chapel.
For three years I've watched the trees grow and shed their leaves....and been distracted from my studies by birds alighting on their branches, classmates strolling beneath them as they head off to class, and squirrels dashing up and down their trunks, getting fatter as the days grow shorter.

From this vantage point I've watched the snow plows do endless laps in the winter....listened to the music and the laughter emanating from campus barbecues and Community Day games....marveled at the beauty of the chapel lit up at night for special events.....and looked forward to the day in spring when the Adirondack chairs appear on the quad....and mourned the day in late October when they're taken away.

I'm going to miss this view.
Soon I will pack up my room and leave these windows behind. 
But at least I get to see spring come, one more time.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Gratitude Journal - Day 4

Today I am grateful for my birthday gift from Stephanie - an Amazon Kindle.
Now maybe our house will stop groaning under the weight of 11 bookcases FULL of books (with many others scattered on the floor and by the bedside....and don't even get me started on how many I have in my dorm room at school).

My first e-book purchase: Barbara Brown Taylor's Gospel Medicine:

"On the one hand, the gospel is just a bunch of words: "Weep no more," "Do not be afraid," "Your sins are forgiven," "Stand up and walk."  They are just words and prescribing them to an ailing world seems as futile as putting a bandage on a broken bone or an aspirin in the hand of someone who is dying. But when we proclaim these words as gospel, we say more: we say that they are words that belong to someone, and that every time we speak them someone is present, speaking them with us, so that we never speak them alone, and they never come back empty. They effect what they proclaim: they dry tears, they quench fears, they forgive sins, they heal souls, they make true the good news of God in Christ every time we speak them."


Friday, March 11, 2011

Gratitude Journal - Day 3

Today I am grateful for inspiration.
I haven't ridden my bike with any regularity in ten years. Since I stopped racing I've shunned the bike in favor of running. But this summer I'm committed to riding two 100-mile charity rides. One in June in CT and one in August on Long Island. So today I started my training regiment with a 20-mile ride on my indoor trainer.
To keep me going I popped in the DVD of the 1999 Tour de France - Lance Armstrong's first Tour after surviving his battle with cancer.

 Lance was a huge unknown. He wore #181 as his USA Postal team was the last team invited to the race.  He had a few stage wins in the TDF before his cancer hiatus but nobody expected much of him after being on his death bed only one year before.
And then he went and won the whole darned thing.
And he did it again for 7 years in a row.
The race I watched today was Stage 9, Lance's first test in the mountains.  He had taken the Yellow Jersey the day before in the Individual Time Trial, but it's rare for a rider to be a good Time Trialist and good in the mountains. Riders who win TT's are usually big and powerful, and riders who win in the mountains are typically small and light. Only a select few can do both.
So Lance was expected to finish in the middle of the pack on Stage 9, but instead he blew them all away.

The moral of the story is, don't ever let anybody count you out.
We are not defined by our limitations, but by our amazing ability to exceed all expectations.
God made us that way.
God delights in watching us discover that we have wings.
And when we spread those wings and take a leap of faith,
   God delights in watching us soar.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Gratitude Journal - Day 2

I am grateful for a rainy Thursday morning spent grocery shopping. For flooded roads, muddy shoes, wet bags, and two flights of stairs to carry them up. Because I have the time and the energy to do all of this, and the money to buy what I need, and what I want.

Gratitude Journal - Day 1

Lent is typically about giving something up, but it also a good time to take something on. This Lenten season, at our pastor's suggestion, the members of our church have taken on the practice of gratitude.
We will all keep gratitude journals during the 40 days of Lent in an effort to be more mindful of the blessings we have received. My journal will be kept here.

Day 1 - Ash Wednesday

I am grateful for our church at night.
For Christmas Eve, Ash Wednesday, and Maundy Thursday services and for all those of all ages who interrupt their busy lives and come out on cold and windy and snowy nights to sit in a chilly be together as a community and worship God.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

In like a lion....

....out like a lamb.

I had to say goodbye to an old friend today.
Katie almost made it to her 18th birthday.
Truthfully, we don't know when she was born... "sometime in mid-March" we were we picked March 17th as her birthday to make her a St. Paddy's Day kitty.
She was born on a farm in upstate New York and came to us in April of 1993, from a relative of my brother-in-law's who heard we were looking to adopt a kitten.
She was tiny, and much younger than the kittens you're allowed to adopt from agencies.
Which may explain why she was a little wild.

At the time I was living in Farmingdale, Long Island, renting a house with my sister and her husband. When Katie arrived in our home that day back in 1993 she trotted out of the cat carrier and went straight up the back of the couch.
"Mine," she said.
She was never a shy kitty. She was prone to making 5 foot leaps and attaching herself to the screen door.  She would hide under the kitchen table and wait for one of us to walk by, and then dash out, wrap her little paws around our ankles and bite down as hard as she could.
These weren't love bites.
These were, "take me back to the farm so I can play with my brothers and sisters" bites.
Katie had a brother who we met the first day she came to us. He was being adopted elsewhere.
He was all white, and big. Twice the size of Katie. In fact, Katie was the runt of the litter.
I imagine she had to learn how to defend herself against 'rough play' fairly early.
So our ankles were paying the price.

As she got older she mellowed a bit, but was still prone to whipping around and biting the hand that fed her, especially if you approached her the wrong way or were petting her a nanosecond longer than she preferred.
We made her an indoor cat, but that didn't stop her from trying to get out when she had the chance.
One winter's day I was holding the front screen door open to talk to someone outside and Katie came bounding down the stairwell that led to the second floor, and darted out the door, down the front steps and down the front walk, before she realized it was covered in ice and snow.
She tried to stop and did one of those cartoon style skids with claws and fur flying everywhere.
Right before she hit the street she was able to gain traction....she then did a 180 degree turn and ran at full speed back up the walkway, up the front steps, in the door, and up the stairwell back up to the second floor.
This all happened in the span of about 15 seconds. Hysterical.
She wasn't as eager to get outside after that experience.

Once I moved her up to CT she did get out one day in the summer when workmen in the house left the doors propped open. I came home from work four hours later expecting to be searching far and wide for her, only to find her sitting calmly in a patch of sun around the side of the house.
That's as far as she got.
I'm sure she inspected every blade of grass along the way.

She was reticent outside, but inside she was her usual crabby self.
My partner Stephanie took to calling her "the psycho bitch cat from Long Island" when we first started dating. Because of her Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality, and because whenever Steph stayed at my house and left her books on the floor Katie would throw up on them.
"Mine," she said.
Meaning me.
Katie did not like the fact that she was no longer the center of my universe.

But she adapted, as she did when I left her behind with my sister for a year when I moved to CT to an apartment that didn't allow pets. She put up with the grabby hands and running feet of my sister's little ones for a year until I moved her up to CT, and then a month later she got knocked off the top of the heap again when we adopted a kitten.
Kittens like to play.
And by this time Katie was old, fat and slow....the farm years and ankle biting of her youth long behind her. When the kitten jumped on her, Katie's strategy was to flop on her side, put her ears back and growl and hiss.
We named the kitten "Stalker" because she took to hiding out in the hallway or in shadowed rooms, just waiting for Katie to walk by.
Katie was like the LST ships my dad served on in WWII - a Large Slow Target.

But her last years were happy ones. She had a hyperthyroid, lost a lot of weight, and had to take medication twice a day, and she had never quite healed from a leg/back injury she suffered a few years ago, which caused her to walk crooked. She had arthritis and was unable to get herself in and out of the litterbox for #2 so she used the rubber mat we put down for our snow boots. We adapted. We think she had lost most of her hearing, and her eyesight was getting worse, but she was otherwise alert and purred up a storm whenever I came home from school for the weekend.

Three days ago she started to have trouble walking and was unable to make it more than a few steps without falling over. She had trouble getting to the litterbox and had more than a few accidents.  Last night I found her in the kitchen with a bloody nose. Did she fall and injure herself? Or was something else going on inside of her that was much more serious.
We could have spent a lot of money and put her through the misery of a bunch of tests to find out if she had something treatable.
We've done it before. We're still paying off the multi-thousand dollar bill from her back injury ordeal.
But no more.
Even the vet agreed that it was time to let her go. 

She went peacefully. Purring right up until the end as I stroked her head and spoke to her, telling her how much I loved her.
Surprisingly I did not cry until after she was gone.
I was smiling as she slowly drifted off to sleep, the life disappearing from her eyes.
I was happy for her. Happy that she was finally free and out of pain.

After the doctor left us to be alone with her one last time I had this horrific split second realization that I was responsible for this. I had taken her life.
This is a decision that no one ever wants to make.
And I think it's part of being human to feel guilt after it is done.
But I know in my heart that it was the right thing to do.

I imagine that she's in kitty heaven right now, running and playing and doing all the things she hadn't been able to do for so long.
She's up there with all the other kitties that I've lost over the years, but she's special... because she trusted me to be there with her when she passed.
I'm sure she trotted right in through the pearly gates, and launched herself onto the first comfy chair that she saw.
"Mine," she said.
And yes indeed, Katie, it's yours to enjoy for eternity. 

Rest in peace my sweet kitty.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

What's next?

I love this picture.
My sister and I in our backyard pool in the summer of 1969. 
I was 3-years-old and my sister was 6-years-old.
I love the look on our faces.
That tiny little pool was barely big enough to fit one of us, let alone both of us AND that huge boat-like toy that my sister has, but neither one of us seems to care.
I am just happy as a clam to be standing in 3" of water, squinting into the sun with my hair a mess (as it usually was) and wearing a sundress that was probably passed down through 3 or more sisters before it got to me.
And my sister looks equally thrilled to be sharing that precious pool space with me. That's not a mischievous look on her face - that has never been in her nature. Instead I see it as amusement over my attempt to "smile for the camera" or some other silly thing that we did or said. 
I look at this picture and I see love.
And I see the unbridled joy of a 3-yr-old who has not yet learned any other way of being in the world other than to live in the moment.

Astute observers (my sister being one of them) may have noticed that I have changed the name of my blog from the 40-year-old Seminarian to the 45-year-old Seminarian.  I was 40-years-old when I started this blog (and envisioned the title as a takeoff on "The 40-year-old Virgin"), but I think it's time that the title more accurately reflected my age, especially since some of my newer classmates upon seeing the blog title assume that I am 40-years-old. As flattering as that is, I want those five years. I earned them.

Of course now that my age finally matches up I will need to come up with an entirely new name for this blog very soon anyway, for in a few short months I will no longer be a seminarian. 
I've considered changing it to  "The 45-year-old Seminary Graduate Who Has A Few More Hoops To Jump Through With The Committee On Ministry Before Getting the Go-Ahead To Enter the Search-and-Call Process and Actually Look For a Job" .....but that seems a little long to fit at the top of the page.

But back to the age thing....Those of you who know me well (again, my sister being one of them) have asked why I changed the title of my blog with my birthday still two weeks away. 
Technically, I am still 44-years-old.

OK - so I jumped the gun. 

I've been doing a lot of that lately.
I decided to give up Facebook for Lent, but I started my sabbatical last Thursday....two weeks before Lent actually begins.
And my brain has whizzed right past graduation and is already obsessing over my chaplaincy internship this summer and the 100-mile bike ride I plan on taking right before it begins. 
Right now I am the Queen of premature-actualization.
I keep willing things to happen before they're ready to happen.
Remember that Paul Masson commercial from the '80's with Orson Welles?
"We will sell no wine, before its time."
Yeah right, sorry Orson....I'm selling the wine.

I don't know why this is.
Perhaps I've been on this journey for so long that finally being within sight of the finish line has me sprinting for the tape.
I'm no longer taking the time to enjoy the scenery and "live in the moment" - I'm anxious to see the results. And I'm anxious to discover what is going to happen next.

But in my anxiousness, my restlessness, my eagerness to keep hitting the fast-forward button, I'm letting a lot of moments-to-be-savored pass me by with hardly a recognition. 

I started this blog four years ago as a way to keep my family and friends informed of my progress as I finished up my undergrad degree and headed off to seminary. 
I also intended it to be a kind of "online journal" - a record of my journey that captured the events and the emotions in a form that I could look back on in the years to come.
I've moved away from those intentions in recent years for reasons that I've already blogged about back in September.

But this has been a week worth documenting.
For those following my progress back home and for myself, as I try, try, try to slow down and savor the good moments as they come, and restrain myself from leaping ahead prematurely.

Moment #1
Last Monday I had an interview for my CPE placement this summer (chaplaincy internship) at a hospital in Derby CT. The interview went very well and I was offered one of the last remaining slots in the program right there on the spot. The hospital is small (160 beds) and I can choose my own area in which to work for the entire summer, so I anticipate getting to know the patients well, which is what I wanted. The hospital follows the  Planetree model, which honors the mind-body-spirit connection of patient care, and I love the fact that the interior space looks more like an upscale rehab center rather than a hospital, with carpeting, natural wood finishes, plants, waterfalls, and family lounges and kitchen facilities. The community the hospital serves is primarily blue collar and Catholic. I got on well with the two supervisors of the program and I really think I'm going to enjoy my time there. Imagine that. I'm actually looking forward to doing CPE. Will wonders never cease.

Moment #2
On Tuesday I was notified that I am being inducted into the Jonathan Edwards Society, the seminary's honor society, which is for "students who have established a distinguished academic record and exemplify the highest qualities of character and a demonstrated capacity for leadership in church and community." - - Or, as one my fellow students called it, "the smarty pants club."
The grade geek in me will admit to feeling pride over keeping my GPA high enough to get into this select group, but I know it is my work as a Spiritual Formation Group leader that ultimately got me in. And I feel uneasy about that. Working with the SFG takes time and prep work but I get so much out of it that I feel strange accepting any honors for doing it.  I feel as if I should be the one honoring the members of my group for being full and willing participants, and the school for giving me the opportunity to be a part of the program.

Moment #3
This is a big one. I finally got my graded Ordination Paper back from the UCC Polity class that I took last fall, and the comments the professors wrote on my paper just floored me.  This is the paper that I will be presenting to my Committee on Ministry as the next step in the ordination process. It's a 24 page paper that details my spiritual journey, my Christian theological viewpoint, and my understanding of UCC polity and history.
My professors said that my paper was "exceptional" and was "one of the two or three best papers we've seen in the last ten years."  They recommended I make no changes, other than a few terminology clarifications, and they asked if they could use my paper as an "example of an excellent paper" in future polity classes. Apparently students always ask to see an example of one but they've never had one to give them before. Wow. Wow. Wow. 
I have nothing more to say about this other than I am amazed and grateful.
My Committee on Ministry may have different things to say about the paper, and they may want me to make changes or edit its length.  But it feels wonderful to have impressed my professors, one of whom I know very well and greatly admire. She's tough to impress. This one is definitely going in the "win" column.

Moment #4
I was asked to participate in yesterday's Community Chapel service here at school. The service celebrated the Border Crossing experiences that we as students are required to participate in to get us outside of our comfort zones and interacting with people and environments that are unfamiliar to us. We had students sharing reflections about trips taken to China and Mexico, work done with the homeless and interfaith projects, and I shared a story from the trip we took to the Appalachian region in eastern Kentucky last May. Everyone did such a wonderful job and it was such a moving service. The affirmations that we all received after the service, and that I've received from random people coming up to me since then has been wonderful. That's what it's all about. Reaching people where they are and inviting them to shift their perspective....and having them confirm that you've helped them to do just that. 

(a full video of the chapel service is available  HERE. My part is towards the end at 42:35)

These are just four of the positive affirmations that I've received this week. There were many others both small and not so small.
In reality, my anxiousness, my restlessness, my eagerness to hit the fast-forward button is tied up with my desire to move beyond a major struggle that is going on in my personal life right now. 
I am growing and I am changing.
And my world is shifting around me. 
And God keeps sending me these signs of grace, in the form of people and events, to let me know that it's going to be okay. 
I'm moving in the right direction.
All I need to do is to keep putting one foot in front of the other and I will get where I need to be. 

In the meantime I need to stop trying to get where I'm going BEFORE I'm supposed to get there.
I need to take a long hard look at that little girl standing ankle-deep in the pool and rediscover what it means to find joy in the moment. 
I have much to feel blessed about, this week and every week.
God is good, all the time.