It’s Thanksgiving, y’all, so I’m going to act on the fact that there’s so, so much I have to be thankful for these days.
Though there are pains that so many of us feel during the holidays, whether it’s due to grief we’re experiencing this particular season or rough family dynamics on the whole, there can also be great joys. I’ve reflected before on the importance of practicing gratitude, and I’ve had a lot of gratitude to share during the past 2.5 years. As my time in grad school begins to end, and as decisions about my bright future come to a head, I want to remember some of the most important milestones I’ve had. These are some of the reflections I shared at those times, and what I’m thinking about now and as I look forward.
2.5 Years Ago.
This is the speech I shared at my graduation from Mayo Clinic’s Pain Rehab Program. If you want to know just how important that experience was to me, you can see that there’s a whole category on my blog dedicated to it – what I learned there and who I met there.
It’s hard for me to believe that I’m standing before you right now. Back in January , when I first heard about the PRC, I was so ready to hop on a plane and begin. However, when I came to Mayo in June to get diagnosed and they offered me a spot in the young adult program, I was far less ready because I thought I knew what I was supposed to and wanted to be doing the summer. Grad school was right around the corner and I wanted to rest up, not go to boot camp. I asked God for a sign to come or not and God answered me loud and clear, so I chopped off my hair, and drove across the country carrying a tiny keychain of a pig with wings because I felt like some of my dreams were so far out of my reach, but I wanted to believe in them again.
My first few days were really hard. I considered leaving and the first time that my dad and I sat down to have an honest conversation about how to make things in our household work better, I ran from the room crying. I was scared of everything, even the positive changes I was being told could happen. Honestly, I had come to this program ready to buy motorized scooter if it didn’t work out well for me. Assuming that I wouldn’t have what it takes to go through grad school. Assuming that I wasn’t capable of living on my own and wouldn’t be able to move out until I got married, if anyone would want to marry someone who was facing so much at such a young age, anyway.
I had sort of forgotten who I was. I was doing the best that anyone could expect me to do with the resources I had, and then some, but I had lost a bit of my characteristic optimism and love for serving others because I was so exhausted by my own circumstances and the seeming injustice and unfairness of being ill. I had hope, but it was very tempered. I loved people, but I ran from them some of the time to save everyone some disappointment when I didn’t follow through on plans because of my symptoms.
I’m proud to say that it’s not the same person who stands in front of you. All of you have watched me change. God has been so faithful, the staff so professional and talented, and the peers so encouraging and inspiring. My pain may be at the same dot on the pain scale, but my perception of it – and more importantly, my perception of myself – is so different. I see my world more in terms of what I can do and what I can’t wait to reclaim or recreate as my own. I’m hiking. I’m playing tennis. I’m playing the piano. I’m dancing. I’m not the same person who I was before I got sick and then before I got here: I’m better, stronger, more moderate but also fuller with rose-colored hope, more grateful, and more loving and loved than I ever could have dreamed to be.
Throughout the last month, God gave me the gift of this second chance at life, a gift that included every single one of you – whether you and I have known each other a day or four weeks – and will continue to include you from here on out as my life progresses. So to all of you, I say thank you and want to remind you that I love you and that God loves you even more. I will always be here for you to pray for you and to cheer you on when you need encouragement and reasons to keep going with our new attitudes and lifestyles. You have lifted me through more than you know throughout our time together and your love for me has propelled me to be a better human being each time I wake up. You have taught me more about life and my future as a hospital chaplain than I could ever have dreamed of. You have become more important to me than I ever could have expected. You are loved and you are valuable.
I’ll end with two quotes that I’ve seen exemplified in all of your lives as you’ve taught me to be more courageous and hopeful: ‘Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.’ And ‘If you only walk on sunny days, you’ll never reach your destination.’
1.5 Years Ago.
This is a Facebook post from my first day of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), Unit I.
‘You gon’ be tired, tired, tired… that’s why you gotta be brave, brave, brave.’ – Rosa Parks to Bryan Stevenson upon hearing his expansive dreams
Almost 15 months ago, I started dreaming a new dream. A few of my dearest friends asked me if I thought that hospital chaplaincy could be a better fit for me and my passions than medical social work. I laughed. One path involved seminary, something that I was incredibly unqualified for (at least, so I estimated – and, often, still estimate, but thankfully, it’s not only my opinion that matters). I said something vague about how nice it was to hear such a thing, and went home, intending never to do anything with those words of encouragement. But, of course, that isn’t where the story ends; it’s where it begins. I changed paths just 8 days later when [my now seminary] picked me before I had even dared to set my heart on picking them.
I had no idea if I was going to be able to accept their offer; aside from my own doubtful feelings about my preparedness for this new area of study, my chronic illness symptoms had become absolutely debilitating. I questioned and feared a lot, but I prayed, worked, plotted, sweated, and cried out for my chance to start anew, and those dreams turned into plans. Thanks to countless brilliant moments both in solitude and with friends, family, Mayo Clinic, and God, here I am: Day one of a new step in my M.Div program. After finishing up my first year of seminary and having nearly a month off to catch my breath before my next adventure began, it’s time to start my internship in pediatric chaplaincy, learn a ton, and see if this is perhaps the line of work that I was born for!
TL;DR: Today is day one of my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at the hospital where I was born, to see if pediatric chaplaincy is right for me and I for it!
‘Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!’ – Luke 1:45
A year and a half later, I’m excitedly waiting to see where I’ll do units II-IV of CPE in the fall of 2019-2020 (after which I can become a certified hospital chaplain). The vocational call I felt in my bones was, indeed, affirmed. It’s been one of the wildest and most beautiful experiences of my life to realize that a dream has become a plan and people see my dream and agree with it.
A blur of applications to hospital chaplaincy jobs and emails and planes and trains and automobiles and interviews and friends’ milestones and my own milestones and internship responsibilities and self-reflections and fall colors and snowfalls and smiles and tears and hikes and walks and monumental changes and slight shifts and important conversations and homemade foods and classes and assignments and nights with wonderful teenagers at youth group and precious moments with loved ones and forks in the road and joys and hopes and disappointments and confusions and whirlwinds and mountains and valleys and occasional moments of stillness amidst the madness and…
…most importantly, gratitude for the sheer ridiculousness and beauty and wildness and blessedness of my life – my past, present, and future. My life in general. It is a miracle.
And now that I’ve received my first acceptance to a hospital chaplaincy residency program, I know in my bones that all that I’m doing right now is leading me to there (or some other hospital, but that’s not something I’m figuring out this instant). It’s official: I will be working as a chaplain. I’ve consistently felt like I have direction throughout my grad school journey, but now, it’s truly tangible.
6 Months from Now.
I’ll be coming back from a 3-week travel course with my seminary in India. I’ll walk across the stage and get a fancy diploma written in Latin that says I’ve mastered the divine. (Kidding, but M.Div is the most pretentious-sounding Master’s degree there is, am I right?). I’ll spend sweet time with family and friends before we all head in separate directions, knowing that our hearts will still be together somehow. Shortly after that, I’ll tack my fancy diploma on a wall in a new living space in the city where I’ll have my first full-time job.
I can’t wait to see what happens. Whatever it will be, I’m already thankful for it. Wherever it will be, I’m already thankful for it. For those with whom I’ll share it – those whom I already know and love and those whom I have yet to meet – I’m already thankful.