What a day … I didn't like it much, but I think it was good for me. I'm going to write about it even though my first inclination is to shake my head to clear it and find something to keep be busy so I won't think about it but that would sort of defeat the purpose … So, my friends, grab your favorite beverage and here we go:
I see myself as the "strong one", the one who endures, the one others come to for reassurance, support, and encouragement. I like being that person. I don't want to appear vulnerable, in fact, that is one of my biggest fears. In one of my first one-on-one meetings with my CPE supervisor, she asked me to rank how much I dislike letting my vulnerabilities show and I ranked it an 8 on a scale of one to ten. "Wow," she said, "you really don't like it … (a long pause as she crafted her next statement) … Vulnerabilities are a gift in ministry." "How so???" I must have looked at her as if she had two heads and I was so taken aback by what she said I can't even remember now how she answered it. I think I just kind of blew it off as her way of trying to shake me up, which it did, but I wasn't going to admit it at the time (you see, a wise friend told me this was a wiley trick of CPE supervisors and I wasn't going to get sucked in by the game).
Since then, a memory from school keeps coming to my mind ...
The dim lights in the chapel made everyone whisper and even the whispers echoed slightly. The small group of students gathered not in the neat rows of chairs with kneeling rails but on and around the steps leading to the holy table. The pavement candles were lit without ceremony and no one processed in. Sitting on the floor looking up at the ceiling in the low light, the image of the beams representing a ship's keel came to me. I'd felt as if there had been a storm building up in me for a couple of days and I was feeling tossed about. I closed my eyes and sucked in the slow, deep breath that always helps me to grip the helm tighter to keep control in rough waters. The piano and guitar played softly as the Order for Compline began. "The Lord grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end. Amen." I love those words. "Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth." Compline is my favorite service. I find tremendous peace in it. This night, however, I was finding it difficult to speak the words out loud; my voice didn't want to cooperate. I knew I could count on the musicians to just play as long as I let them in the places we replaced spoken words with songs. At the end of the first song, the tears were stinging my eyes, like seawater blown over the bow. I blinked them back and took a breath. "Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit; For you have redeemed me, O Lord, O God of Truth; Keep us, O Lord, as the apple of your eye; Hide us in the shadow of your wings." My voice was breaking. A friend sitting next to me slid closer and put her arm around my shoulders. I blinked harder. "Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord have mercy," and then the musicians started Lord's Prayer. I put my head on my knees and willed myself into control. As the prayer concluded I slid the leader's book to my friend and she continued the service, "Lord hear our prayer; And let our cry come to you … "
I couldn't control it any longer, the waves crashed over the side of my boat and I couldn't stop them. Those around me continued with the service as they all slid over to surround me and touch me wherever they could fit and reach. My rational being, the one I normally let steer the ship, was yelling "mutiny" as the emotional being took the wheel and turned head on into the storm. I found enough voice to say my favorite words of the service "Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ and asleep we may rest in peace." I felt a strength begin to grow inside me. As the service ended, no one left. They just circled me tighter letting me ride out my storm without words. When my tears stopped and I raised my head, still no one asked anything. We just all stood, extinguished candles, gathered up service books, turned out lights, locked the chapel door, and walked to our rooms. As we got to the hall of the women's floor, one of the other ladies finally spoke to me and she said something like, "I'm so happy to see you cry. It lets me know you are human just like the rest of us and that I can trust you. Thank you." Her "thank you" has echoed in my mind ever since.
Perhaps this is the gift that my CPE supervisor was speaking of …
And, as for what made today so tough and brought this to the surface again … well, I was sharing about a conversation I had with a patient who was going in for open heart surgery and he was telling me that he longed for the glory of the life he knew he would have in heaven. As I was telling the story, the emotional storm began to spill over the edge of my ship. My supervisor and fellow CPE students encouraged me to let the tears flow and I fought it with all my might. The deck got a little wet, but I held on to the helm and steered away from the worst of the storm. It would have been a safe place to ride out the waves but I couldn't do it.
In a quiet conversation after with one of the other students, I boiled it down to this: There is a difference between being vulnerable and letting my vulnerabilities show in a safe, trusting environment. Now I just have to come to accept and believe it.