Soul Garden

Last Thursday I went to see my Spiritual Director. After a few moments of silence, which I requested but during which I discovered my brain was very very noisy, he asked me, as he always does, “What do you want to talk about today?”

So, as frequently happens when I think I want to blog, I suddenly thought of so many things to “talk about today” that I couldn’t say anything. So I looked out the window instead, and noticed it was raining. I thought about how good it was that it was raining because, in spite of record-breaking snows last winter, it’s been a pretty dry summer and the garden needs the rain. Then I thought about the garden.

Then I said, “So, we have this garden. Paul’s been working on it for months–really hard–and it is going crazy. I mean, it is super-fruitful. There were a couple things that didn’t come out so well–the corn and the pole beans–but everything grew–and there is a ton of it all. The heirloom tomatoes are huge, and the zucchinis are still growing, we had a bunch of cucumbers, and there are a million spaghetti squashes coming in. But,” I went on, “it’s a mess. Everything has been growing so well and so madly that all the plants are all tangled up together. You can’t tell where one plant ends or another begins. Sometimes it looks like the tomatoes are bearing peppers, and the morning glories are growing tomatoes, and  … You can’t even walk around in there without hacking down some vines to get through and pick stuff.

My Spiritual Director sat there waiting for me to come to the point, but he probably already knew what it was, because he’s pretty good at being a spiritual director.

“I guess,” I said, “I feel like the garden is a picture of my life right now. This has been a really rough year, but the whole time Jesus has felt very present, and like He’s doing a lot of work on me–and I think stuff is happening. Like, maybe there’s some ultimately useless stuff going on, like the beans and the corn, but also lots and lots of produce. I’m just not totally sure how to get in there and figure out what’s all in there, because it’s so productive and so crazy, everything’s all tangled up.”

The more we talked about it, the more apt we felt this analogy was–and the more I still do. But since I can’t take pictures of my soul, you can look at the garden (and the produce) of a few weeks ago, instead.

If You Could Do Anything …

I guess it’s probably not surprising, when someone is in vocational transition, for people to ask them, “If you could do anything for work, what would you do?”

Anyway, within the last five days or so, it seems like a lot of people have been asking me some version of that:

“What would your ideal ministry look like?”

“What do you really love to do?”

“In the next five years, what do you wish you could be doing?”

Yesterday I was driving to visit my nonagenarian grandmother and, as I often do on long car-rides if I don’t nearly fall asleep instead, I had an epiphany. The epiphany was,

“I want to teach a class on Roman Catholic literature!”

That's a Jenn Story

Cue angelic epiphany music here.
(Also, don’t judge my drawing. You’ll note that my epiphany was NOT about wanting to teach art. Or science.)

Maybe just 20th century Roman Catholic literature, although the original trigger for the idea was pondering The Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila, which I just read as part of my spiritual direction training. The Roman Catholic literature idea is a blogpost in its own right (but may I just say with breathless excitement #FlanneryOConnorWalkerPercyGrahamGreeneJRRTolkein? I mean, awesome, right??).

That’s not normally how I answer people when they ask those questions, though. Normally I say something like, “Well, I really love listening to people’s stories, and coaching them on their spiritual journeys, and teaching–especially teaching stuff that I’m excited about learning.” Today I told someone, “CS Lewis said to write the kind of book you want to read, and I’ve tried but I can’t do that” [mostly because the kind of book I want to read is Roman Catholic literature, and I’m not Roman Catholic; or CS Lewis books, which have already been written by CS Lewis–and when I try to write in the genre of Narnia or the Cosmic Trilogy I fail miserably] “but I think I could probably teach the kind of class I would want to take.” That was a little bit of an epiphany, too.

One time, in answer to those questions, I spent a couple of days writing a proposal for the Gradually-Less-Nebulous-Nonprofit. Maybe at some point (tomorrow?) I will post some of it here. It involves listening to people’s stories, and coaching, and teaching, and some public speaking/seminar-type deals, and retreats. This is what I want to do, but it’s sort of scary, because then I think,

“There are other people who do this already, who are really good at it, and who do I think I am, and do I even begin to think I’ve got something else or more to offer than they’re already offering?”

And, “If it’s a nonprofit, why on earth would anyone donate to it, when there are other, already established, reputable nonprofits?” (Not to mention, the idea of responsibly setting a salary for myself is scary.)

And, “If I decide that really, it should be for-profit, no one could donate even if they wanted to, and then how would I keep costs down for potential clients/students, and either way, what if no one wants to take the courses I hope to teach?”

And, “How does one go about choosing a board of directors? And what are they supposed to do, anyway?”

And, “What the heck–I don’t know how to do this stuff. Maybe I’ll go back to professional nannying.” I mean, it’s an honourable profession–and I am still training to be a chaplain … even though I won’t have certification for at least two more years …

Guys. This is terrifying.

Is this (and, say, lack of funds) why so few of us actually do what we would do if we could do anything?

What would you do if you could do anything? And are you doing it?

Pathological Cling

You’ve met Oscar before. He’s that cute little guy sitting there with me in my current Gravatar.

That's a Jenn Story

Here–just in case I change it again at some point and you read this long after I’ve written it.

He’s a sweet, gentle, quiet boy, and I guess he didn’t have the greatest of beginnings, because when I got him as a rescue six years ago, he had some pretty severe anxiety issues. He hasn’t ever really lost them, but being loved by people and socialised by Shemp helped a lot to make him internally relaxed and a little more “opened up.” Quirky for sure, but he’s my dog, so that’s probably a foregone conclusion, and basically he’s a good dog.

On the other hand, although there are people he likes, and other dogs he’s been friends with, in another sense he’s only ever deeply bonded with me and Shemp. We were pretty worried about how he was going to adjust (or not) to Shemp’s passing, but although he was clearly quite depressed for a while afterwards, with a few minor episodes he really behaved very well. Thing is, he doesn’t do well with changes in routine to begin with, and his canine support who enabled him to navigate them is no longer around.

Normally, Oscar doesn't snuggle, but you can see how much he loves Shemp by how relaxed he is here.

Normally, Oscar doesn’t snuggle, but you can see how much he loves Shemp by how relaxed he is here.

When I stopped bringing him to work at my former church, Shemp was still around and he adjusted just fine. And by the time Shemp was gone, I had transitioned to my internship and he was used to me leaving at roughly the same time every morning and coming home at the same time every evening. Then we all (including Oscar) went on vacation, and then I worked as a short-term nanny to the small son of one of my Starbucks friends, on a similar schedule.

But last weekend, I went away for four days, for my first Spiritual Direction training retreat. Although he was clearly happy to see me when I returned, Oscar seemed his normal self, but the problem is, this week has been a continuation of “different.” My Paul’s workload has ballooned, and I am suddenly fully unemployed, waiting for my next internship to begin, and trying to find part-time work for income at the same time. (Or working on getting ready to launch my Nonprofit–which is legitimately in process.) This means that I’m home at weird hours, and because Paul is working late a lot, our usual evening routine (frequently involving a ride on the boat) hasn’t been happening either.

All of a sudden yesterday it was as if Oscar had mental break, and he has been incapable of letting me out of his sight. He follows me to the bathroom and lies down outside it against the door. He follows me up the stairs, where he isn’t allowed. He leans against my legs when I’m doing my hair or make-up in the morning. (Today I pointed the running hairdryer at him to see what he would do and he just sat there. He hates loud noises.) He gloms onto my hip when I’m sitting on the couch. It’s weird, and annoying, and a little concerning, because although it’s clear a metaphorical (metaphysical?) switch flipped inside him, I’m not sure how to flip it back.

Usually there's not even this much separation

This week, usually there’s not even this much separation between us.

Paul made the valid point that Shemp went away and never came back, and I just went away for a significant stretch, and so Oscar’s probably fearful that all his pack are deserting him. Honestly, I was just crying about Shemp again the other day myself, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Oscar’s still sustaining some significant grief himself. Our dramatic change in household routine has, I suspect, cemented that idea of potential loss of or abandonment by me in his little nervous doggie skull. So I’m giving him lots of hugs while still maintaining the house rules with him, but so far he does not seem convinced that all is well, and I’m not sure how to help him besides, frankly, to pray for him. Do you have any ideas?

Love, Oscar

Help, please. Love, Oscar

The Presence of Greatness

I spent eleven weeks this summer in the hospital.

But I wasn’t a patient. At the end of May, after saying farewell to the church where I’d worked for seven years, and after visiting The BroFam for a week, I embarked on the first of four internships toward hospital chaplaincy certification. (It’s called CPE–Clinical Pastoral Education–and now you can say you just learned something this summer, too!) I started it because it seemed pretty closely related to my interest in spiritual direction (it still seems like it), and because I figured it might help me gauge what’s next, vocation-wise. I think it might have, because I’m now enrolled in the next unit of CPE, to start at the end of this month.

I can’t tell you all about my “summer vacation” (it wasn’t a vacation, by the way), because it was mostly other people’s stories, but here’s what I can tell you about the other people’s stories:

They’re amazing.

It’s easy to get jaded about people. For example, when you work at Starbucks and half the customers act entitled and arrogant and it’s just coffee, people. But if you have a chance to sit with a person who is going through a time of great pain, or even a time of great joy (I got to see a lot of new babies this summer), and really listen to their story–well, it’s hard not to be somewhat in awe.

It is, as someone hypothesized to me this afternoon, pretty humbling when a complete stranger bares their soul to you–or even just shares a little bit about themselves. My main takeaway from my summer has been that I just spent nearly three months sitting in the presence of greatness–a whole lot of people created in the image of God, with all their life experiences, all their pain and glory. I guess giving people the opportunity to tell their stories (“I have a story?” many of them said, and “Everyone has a story. I’d be honoured to hear yours,” I said) is providing a service for others. But I’m not sure whether I didn’t benefit the more. There’s no way I’m remotely like Mother Teresa, but I think I caught a glimpse of what people like her talk about, meeting Jesus in everyone.

I’m still not really sure where, specifically, I’m going vocationally, but I’m looking forward to the next internship.

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