Tuesday, June 22, 2010


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.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Uncomfortableness (or CPE #2)

Okay so that's really not a word but it says so much … it describes my state of being this past week and using it helps me with accepting those things that make me uncomfortable, like made up words (minor in the overall scheme of things, I know, but a pet peeve nonetheless).

Are you ready for some honest, personal reflection? That is, after all, one of the main things I'm supposed to be getting out of my CPE experience. A nice beverage of choice might make it a little easier. Since it's a Saturday morning, I'm currently settling for coffee …

Some people don't mind confronting those things that make them uncomfortable; some people avoid those things that make them uncomfortable; some people react with panic, fear, anger, self-righteousness, or indignation. I usually start with the avoidance technique and if that doesn't work, I follow through with any combination of the emotions listed. Hard to admit, but true.

This past week, we read some information on a personality assessment called the Enneagram. I'd never heard of it before but apparently I'm part of the minority (I live with the fact that I'm out of touch and usually years behind – didn't even know what my Myers-Briggs was until this past term – I think I was the last one on the planet…). My first thought on personality typing is that I don't put a lot of stock into them. I find them interesting and thought provoking but I don't like being put in a slot and I don't want to fall into the trap of blaming my bad or unhealthy behaviors on a definition of my personality (my CPE supervisor would be so happy to see me personalizing that instead of lumping the human race into the royal we). Besides, how do I know which ones are valid and which are not. I mean really, have you looked at how many variations there are on Facebook? According to FB, I'm Big Bird, Marcy (from Peanuts), Calvin Coolidge, Green, Kermit the Frog, and Light. According to past ones I've taken through various team-building activities at my jobs, I'm a dove and an otter. On a more serious note, Myers-Briggs says I'm an ENFJ (not even anything cute or fun, just a list of letters). So, now, according to the Enneagram, I'm a 2 (not even my favorite number).

This past Tuesday in Reading Seminar, we discussed our first reading on the Enneagram. I wasn't very positive about it and butted heads with my supervisor. She puts a lot of stock in the Enneagram – lives and breathes it, analyzes everyone she is in relationship with using it and I hear her saying things like "I can't help it, I'm a 7". After the seminar, I was a bit perplexed as to why it irritated me so and it bothered me all day. When I got home, I was discussing it with a friend and she was able to voice what I hadn't been able to put my finger on. Where is God in all of this? That is what was bothering me. If I accept all of my behavior, as it is, because a personality test tells me I do these things because I'm a specific type that takes away the transformational aspect of my relationship with God. Of course, with my usual lack of self-confidence in voicing things theological, I wasn't quite sure of how I was going to explain this in next week's Reading Seminar but I began to pray about being more open to learning about the Enneagram and its possibilities.

Earlier today, I was doing some reading for the Spiritual Formation for Ministry class I'm taking in August and guess what came up? You guessed it – Enneagrams. And did I mention that I walked into my favorite bookstore last week and what did they have on display at the front counter? Yep – several books on Enneagrams (please, to make me feel better, someone please tell me you haven't heard of them before this …). But in the book I was reading, The Gift of Being Yourself by David Benner, the Enneagram is presented as a tool for spiritual transformation. Benner describes the Enneagram as a way to look deep inside ourselves and identify those sinful tendencies which we would rather bury or ignore but which, until we confront it as part of who we are, will prevent us from accepting and knowing ourselves "as we are accepted and known by God" (Benner, 72). "It is in the depth of your self that God waits to meet you with transforming love" (73). It's a short book and well worth the read for anyone looking to begin the journey of self-discovery as a starting point for spiritual transformation.

I still feel an uncomfortableness about looking so deeply into myself but I think I'll try strategy number one and confront it … at least until I start to panic …

God's peace, my friends!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

CPE Entry #1

Well, I've survived almost three weeks of CPE … the first week and a half were mostly orientation and getting what we need to do whatever it is we are supposed to be doing (computer access, keys, badges, phones, etc.). We just started seeing patients this week but with all of the class and group work we do, there isn't a lot of time to visit with the patients (in all honesty I'm mixed with disappointment and relief over this). I'm beginning to discover (and those of you that told me this you know how thick headed I can be …) that the most important thing about CPE is self-discovery. The patient visits, although good for the patients and the vast majority appreciate and are grateful for the time we do spend with them, are just another tool to help us bring out those things which will help us and those things which will get in our way in our ministry.

One of the things we have to do each week is to prepare a "verbatim" in which we write out, word-for-word as closely as we can remember, a significant conversation with a patient. We then analyze the conversation from the patient's point of view and our point of view and look at the theology of the visit, answering "where was God in this encounter". I handed in my first verbatim today, the patient was one of my very first visits and I was very nervous – you see we have to do a "spiritual assessment" on all newly admitted patients and there is specific information we are to get from the patient to complete the form in their patient records such as "what type of relationship does the patient have with God", "Has the patient be wounded by the church", and "How does the patient view God", but we are supposed to do this in a conversational way rather than from a checklist of questions. So, I had a copy of the questions in my notebook discretely placed where I could see them and make it look like I'm looking at the patient information slip that brought me to this patient in the first place (sneaky, huh?). What made this particular visit significant was that the patient was a Baptist minister … of course I didn't know that as I walked in the room and introduced myself with as much confidence as I had been able to muster in the short walk from the chaplain office to the ward.

What I discovered as I wrote out the conversation we had was that he was able to minister to me in seeing and acknowledging my nervousness and yet I was still able to do him some good, too. He had been hoping that a chaplain would come see him because as he put it: "whenever I visit a church I make sure I introduce myself to the minister first thing since I'm in their house." Within my first two or three sentences, he picked up on my nervousness and asked me, ever so sweetly, why. When I told him I was new, he smiled with a smile as big as all of Texas and reached for my hand and began to share with me his story into the ministry. He was all but tied down to the bed with cords and tubes, but he was as animated as his circumstances would allow. He was so filled with joy at sharing with me I forgot all about my list of questions and just let him talk, which he did for almost half an hour. He finally ended by telling me that he could see the Spirit in me and to trust that God would equip me for his ministry so I didn't need to worry. Then he asked me to pray for him. As I thanked God for our visit and asked for continued healing for him and guidance and wisdom for his doctors and nurses, he punctuated my prayer with loud "ALLELUIA"s and "AMEN"s. We both had tears in our eyes when I finished.

Immediately after the visit, all I could focus on was the draining of my self-confidence when he told me he was a minister. The next day, as I began to write it out, I could see what an amazing encounter it turned out to be. God worked through this to give me the boost I needed to begin to claim the permission to be a chaplain – equipping me for his ministry (I'm sure, though, knowing me, I'll still worry about it a little).

God is faithful and good.