Hi My Name Is

Shortly after my appointment to start the Pilgrimage with Missions Door, someone, who I think was trying to be sympathetic, said, “I don’t know of anyone who has struggled as much as you to know God’s will for your life! It sounds as though it’s becoming clearer, though.”

I’ve done a lot of different stuff and been a lot of different things in my adult life, so I guess I can see why it would look like that. Maybe it really is like that. Or maybe trying to do God’s will doesn’t always (for every person) look like doing exactly the same thing your whole life, but more like, say, a Pilgrimage–where the goal is always the same, but the path meanders through different places and looks different accordingly. (There might also be different understandings of “God’s will.”) But–I don’t know–I guess I used to think all the things I’d ever done were unrelated except that I did them because I thought or hoped God was asking me to at the time. From this vantage point, though, I’m wondering if they’ve really just been different iterations of one thing all along.

At the beginning of my summer CPE internship, we had to write a short paper on our first impressions, and at the end of mine, I said, “I like meeting new people and hearing their stories, but I hate initiating introductions. And I have just signed myself up for an entire summer of doing basically that. What was I thinking?” Maybe this. Observe:

024_22London, late 90’s

“Hi, my name is Jenn and this is ____________. We belong to [Local Church]. We are right around the corner from you and we wanted to let you know about some of the services we offer our community which are available to you … ”

Slide20Living History Museum, early aughts

“Good day, my name is Anna Russell. I’m the minister’s daughter … ”

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Obviously, I am not at Starbucks in this picture. But I am on a coffee plantation that sells to Starbucks. In 2007.

Starbucks, mid aughts

“Hi there–how’s it going? What can I get for you today?” [I pretty much never had to actually introduce myself to anyone at Starbucks. Enough people are regulars that names were more or less learned by osmosis. Lots of conversations happened, though.]

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Previous Church, late aughts

“Hi, my name is Jenn, and I’m the director of Christian education. Would your kids like to join our Sunday school? … Would your teens like to join our youth group? … Would you like to buy a loaf of Mission Bread? … Would your company like to donate items for our next fundraiser? … How about volunteering?”

The Hospital, 2015

“Hi, my name is Jenn, and I’m a chaplain intern. I’m visiting the patients in this unit today and was wondering if you’d like some company …”

The Pilgrimage, 2016

Okay. I don’t actually know how I’m going to introduce the Pilgrimage to participants yet, exactly. Although I’ve been doing a whole lot of putting myself out there for the support-raising piece so far, I guess.

Evidently at least part of God’s will for my life has to do with getting out of my comfort zone. Actually, I’m pretty sure that’s God’s will for everybody’s life. It’s how we learn to trust God better–when the Comfortable is not around. Maybe another piece of God’s will that’s consistent through all of the above is that, by getting me out of my comfort zone, opportunities are created for conversations and interactions in which God can show up. At least, I hope so. I like meeting new people and hearing their stories, but I hate initiating introductions. If God shows up, though, I’m in. He’s worth it.

The Pilgrimage is funded by your generosity. Recurring or special tax deductible donations may be sent to: Missions Door, 2530 Washington St, Denver CO 80205 or visit www.the-pilgrimage.org and click “Donate.”

 

 

 

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Soul Sandwich

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Sunday was the kids’ at Previous Church’s “Super Bowl Subs” fundraiser. Here’s a post that I guess could be in their honour. They know about sandwiches.

At some point last autumn, it dawned on me that I was really busy. I mean really busy. It was different than having a lot of stuff going on in my head and my spirit, which is what mostly made up the “soul garden” I talked to the Spiritual Director about at the beginning of that season. I was overwhelmed, and I just wasn’t sure how to get my arms around everything I was supposed to be doing.

But it was time to see the Spiritual Director again, and so I told him about it. I’m training as a chaplain, I said. And I’m training as a spiritual director myself. And I’m newly appointed to begin The Pilgrimage. And I have to read books for all these trainings–which I like to do, but takes me forever. And I will be working with college students. And I have to start support-raising, which was really kind of easy when I did it before moving to London in 1997, but seemed like it might be more work this time around. And I have this one freelance tutoring job. And we just joined a new church that we’re trying to get involved in…

I had gone round and round in my head trying to figure out which pieces to take out of this crazy life-puzzle, but every time I did that, something like what happened with the $500 would happen again, and I would realize the two-or-however-many things I had just decided to give up were two things I was really supposed to be doing. And actually, I liked all of these things, but I just wasn’t sure how to make them all happen at once.

The Spiritual Director listened. He threw out a couple of possible images and biblical parallels to see if they might help me get a handle on everything I was trying to do, but I couldn’t quite seem to grab onto any of them. “What it sounds like you really need,” he suggested, “is some way to break everything down into manageable pieces.”

“Sandwiches,” I said, suddenly realizing.

“What?” he asked.

“Sandwiches,” I said. “I don’t like sandwiches. I was just telling my CPE group this today. I like all the ingredients of sandwiches–usually, because I eat almost anything. But I don’t like eating them all together. I don’t like biting into the whole thing and having it all get stuck in my teeth, and not being able to taste the individual things.” I’ve been told before that I’m un-American for this quirk, and maybe that’s true. I will eat sandwiches. I just don’t prefer them.

“How would you prefer to eat a sandwich if you could?” asked my Spiritual Director.

I thought for a minute. “With a fork,” I said at last. Which is weird, because I will happily eat curry with my fingers, but whatever.

“So,” said the Spiritual Director, “your life is a sandwich, and you need to figure out how to take it apart so you can get to the ingredients one at a time, instead of all at once.” He wasn’t even laughing at me. Nor did he insist I find a Bible verse to bolster this unusual spiritual analogy, although he blessed me with one, later.

Now it’s February, and a whole new year, and guess what? I’m still engaged in exactly all of those same activities which were overwhelming me in the autumn … and I’m actually engaging them. I think one reason is that I’ve taken them apart like a sandwich and am addressing them one at a time. Maybe with a fork.

If I Had Five Hundred Dollars…

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The Barenaked Ladies sing about what they would do with a million dollars, and they probably actually have that (or have had it, or could have had it if they had made better choices or whatever), but all I wanted was five hundred. I wasn’t going to keep it, or buy a real green dress with it (even though I like green, and I like dresses). I needed it to pay for my current CPE internship.

I had stopped working at Previous Church (formerly known as Now Church) back in May, and although I had picked up the odd freelance job over the summer, I wasn’t exactly making regular–or living wage–paychecks. (I’m still not, but I’m way less stressed about it–but that’s another story for another time.) Five hundred dollars is a really reasonable amount for one unit of training of the caliber that CPE is, but I was having a hard time scraping that together without dipping into savings, and had already put off paying it for about a month. Now it was November, and I finally had just enough in the bank, and was about to write it onto a check…and then the floor rotted out of my car. Guess how much it cost to fix it? $535.

“Well,” I thought to myself, before jogging to the autobody shop to pick up and pay for the car (I threw that in there to impress you, but I think I only went for a run twice last year), “I guess they can wait for me to pay for CPE for another month.”

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This picture is actually from 2011, and in it I am getting ready to play laser tag for my birthday, but I just rediscovered it and decided it was kind of adorable, and better than the public domain images of random people running that I found in Google search.

I picked up the car. I brought it back. I checked the mail. There was a letter from a friend. Inside the letter was a check. Guess how much the check was for?

It was written because I had just been appointed to Campus Ambassadors/Missions Door. But it was what I needed right that second to pay for CPE. Somehow God–and this discerning friend of mine–managed to confirm both trajectories in one fell swoop. I was pretty quiet for a minute. Then, a little breathlessly, I thanked God, and I thanked my friend. And then I paid for CPE.

The Pilgrimage: The Unexpected

I’ll bet you thought I was never going to blog again.

I’ll bet you thought I was back.

Or you’re just used to my blogging fickleness, so that whenever I post something, you think, “She’ll be gone again.” And whenever I stop, you think, “She’ll be back.”

Or you just haven’t noticed.

Anyway, pretty immediately after my last three posts, there was a turn of events that both fulfilled and altered the non-profit-starting trajectory I was on. There are many tales I could tell you about all this, and I feel like I intend to, but I’m not making any promises. For now, see here the newsletter I have sent to many of my friends, relations, and acquaintances. Consider yourself a recipient, too!

If you are intrigued and would like to receive more of these missives (or even join me on this new Pilgrimage), please visit my new website and sign yourself up!

Second Takes

The first time I brought a group of high schoolers on a mission trip, there was one young man who had such a great time that he refused to go on another such trip ever again, because he believed it couldn’t possibly be as wonderful as that first one. I think I maybe understand how he felt. My first unit of CPE, which only ended two months ago, was such a formative and healing experience with such exceptional people during a time otherwise characterized by such upheaval, that I can’t quite conceive of how this second unit could possibly measure up.

Yet here I am, intentionally not-refusing another round of CPE, regardless of this feeling. I’m hoping that my being in my 40’s instead of in my teens will at least give me the perspective to realize there is value in all kinds of experience, that “measuring up” may be a false standard (what is the standard, anyway?), and that I still have lots to learn. I suspect what I need to learn this time around, I will only be able to learn from and with this new set of differently exceptional people. I just need not to expect to feel exactly the same at the end of this current unit as I did at the end of the last one. I certainly don’t feel the same at the beginning of it.

Although, as I discovered after trying to co-lead a tour of the hospital for my new group-mates yesterday, I still don’t know where all the hospital units are, said Hospital feels much more like “home” this time around.

Despite what you might be thinking, this is a hospital, and not a mall or train station.

Despite what you might be thinking, this is a hospital, and not a mall or train station.

I don’t feel as jumpy around new people as I did when I first walked into the building as a CPE newbie. I recognize some of the staff from other departments. I felt comfortable to come in and begin visiting patients in new units even before we were technically required to, and have already had some interesting, and maybe even noteworthy, visits. I visited my favorite unit from last time and was greeted with smiles and squeals of happy recognition and welcome by the staff. I was equally delighted to see them. I already know that the Monsigneur on staff is personable and that I don’t have to stand on ceremony with him, nor do I need my Supervisor to be my immediate go-to person for each and every question or uncertainty that may blip across my consciousness.

That said, I find that I am still quite nervous about the psychological health unit, where I asked to be assigned and consequently have been. I attended with my Supervisor a group he runs there, and sat there feeling deeply interested in everything the patients said, but also entirely at a loss at how to engage in the group—so I didn’t, sitting mute and no doubt wide-eyed. I was too nervous to go up there by myself before that meeting, so I have no idea if my discomfort was simply a form of self-consciousness because I felt that my Supervisor would be evaluating anything I might ask or offer in the group, or if it was a genuine reaction to the demographic. Or the stories. Probably some of all of that. I want to be there, because I’ve had my own struggles with depression, and mental illness and addiction are rampant in Our Fair City, and I think it’s important for me to learn how to “be” in this context. But it’s quite clear that learning it is essential, because I don’t already know how to be there, at all.

Already this unit of CPE is shaping up very differently from the last, but as a consequence, I feel excited and interested in seeing how this new chapter unfolds. I am relishing an increase of confidence from the last time, and only hope I don’t stride into this experience with such briskness that I miss noticing what’s happening in and around me in the moment.

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?

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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