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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Prepping for the Road

This is the latest newsletter I sent out…

On New Year’s Eve, one of the students I mentor at Worcester State updated her Facebook status. “This year was rough,” she admitted. “Senioritis and depression and anxiety abound, but you know what? I made it through. This year was hard, but it was also pretty amazing. I found my way back to God with the help of some very important people. I found a family in Campus Ambassadors … I was able to attend two retreats and find where I belong with God.” After listing a number of other events and accomplishments, she said, “I’m generally feeling pretty good about life right now. Happy New Year y’all, hope it is a great one and that God blesses us all.”

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Laser Tag Warriors


This young woman is one reason I’ve been appointed to begin Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 7.51.57 PM.pngThe Pilgrimage for Missions Door. She just started the last semester of her senior year. She’s growing in her faith and I mentor her once a week. She attends a local church which she enjoys very much. At some point, she and other college students like her will take on leadership roles in their churches. We should hope they will, anyway.

In fact, however, many young adults, even if they manage to retain or gain a living faith in college, find it challenged on all sides when they graduate. Sometimes they don’t feel ready to take leadership in church. Sometimes their churches are frankly not ready for them to take that leadership, either.

“The Pilgrimage” is intended to help campus ministry alumni, as well as others on the fringes of church life, to deepen their relationship with Jesus and be empowered to engage both their Christian and surrounding communities with His transforming, loving presence.

I will develop the Pilgrimage once I have raised my financial support. For now, ministry consists primarily of discovering the people God is leading to join this path through prayer and finances so we can journey well without false starts. However, I am blessed to spend a little time on the local state university’s campus, thanks to my chaplaincy supervisor’s generosity and creativity in allowing me to apply time there toward my chaplaincy training. I am also grateful and amazed to see the ways God is already providing support—through many of you! Thank you for your prayers and gifts which are already gearing us up for our spiritual trek. Travel well!

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.com and click “Donate.”

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!

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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What’s in It for Me?

The weirdest thing about this whole church shopping phase we’re in is that I have consciously to ask what I can get out of it. I never wanted to be a “what’s in it for me?” person.

Yes, yes, I’m familiar with the idea that some people like to espouse which says that even altruistic acts are never entirely altruistic because you always get something out of it. And I guess if you want to be that guy and say that somehow doing something for love of someone else (or Someone Else) is still “getting something out of it,” you can be that guy. Either way, I know myself well enough to be able to admit that even if a truly altruistic act is possible, and even though I don’t think the question a person asks when they’re looking for a church should be “What’s in it for me?” it’s entirely plausible that my current preference for small mainline orthodox churches indicates that I get something out of that type of worship and community–although I still have to figure out what that is. And I’m also not sure that that type of church is where we’ll end up at the end of all this. We might. We might not. We’re not making our decision based on that preference, is the thing–although it’s still a factor, as will be seen.

The real problem is this very conscious need I have for a church to officially endorse me. I don’t like having to base our decision so largely on something that sounds so self-centered and even mercenary. But that’s what it’s looking like right now.

As you will know, if you’ve been paying attention over the vast swathes of time elapsing between each post here this year, during the summer I did a unit of CPE. It was great. I am hoping to be able to blog about that for a while after this post, but anyway, it seems like a good vocational fit (which might actually, in three or four years (!) lead to a small income, unlike spiritual direction which is an even better fit and even less financially viable). The thing about chaplaincy certification is that it’s pretty “hoop-y.” There are seminary credit hoops, and equivalency hoops (if you don’t have the sufficient amount of seminary credit, which apparently a Master’s in Theological Studies doesn’t provide), and church membership and endorsement hoops.

Right this second? This might be my circus and these might be my monkeys ...

Right this second? This might be my circus and these might be my monkeys … Or I might be.

This is awkward for someone who has always been active in church and highly endorse-able and now, suddenly when she needs it, doesn’t currently belong to a church that can endorse her. This is further complicated by the fact that even though it appears that the accrediting body for chaplains will accept any form endorsement from a recognised church entity, each church itself has different requirements for endorsement.

Most of the small mainline churches that my Paul and I like so much belong to denominations with even hoop-ier requirements for endorsement than chaplaincy accreditation has, including, say, extra (and expensive) higher education through one of their denomination’s own seminaries (as opposed to that unaffiliated one I graduated from). And I mean, I get that if I’m going to join a denomination of which I’ve never been a part, and one of whose churches I just attended one or two times, I should get some solid info about where they came from and where they think they’re going and whether or not we’re a good fit for each other. But some of these processes cost around $10,000–and I just finished seminary. Also, some of the denominations and I are probably not a good fit for each other. Just that one little church and I would be. And so I wish that the one little church itself could get to know me, and I them, and they could endorse me by themselves.

On the other hand, there are independent (or loosely affiliated) churches which might well endorse me without any of that stuff if I spent some time investing in their community (also a reasonable expectation–I certainly don’t expect anyone to endorse someone they have no actual connection with or benefit from), but–well, here’s where our preference comes in after all. These churches are excellent, and faithful, and love God and people, but they are big. (Well, I mean, for New England, where there might be like 3 megachurches in the whole region and those are probably tiny compared to anywhere else.) They have contemporary worship. Which is fine, and I used to like that and I’ve even played the flute on “worship teams” in such settings, and if we went to one of these churches, I’d probably offer to do so again, but if we’re talking about preferences, I’m in the hymn camp. They have lots of ministries and lots of great people but–well, they don’t need us to help them with any of those things because if we don’t, they have a couple hundred other people who might or could or should.

The little churches my Paul and I would like to go to are lucky if they have a hundred people. They are located near halfway houses and they reach out to the people there, and contribute to food banks and homeless communities. And it’s not that these bigger churches don’t, but the littler churches are right in those neighbourhoods, and need the person-power. And both types of churches may be expressing deep and challenging faith in God, but–maybe as a function of my church-planting upbringing–I just get motivated by the small-church, all-band-together, close-knit, down-home kind of faith expression.

In the end, though, we’re open to going to either kind–as long as there’s some hope of endorsement for me eventually, but even more as long as we’re certain we’re where God wants us to be for this time. It’s tough, not to be certain, and it makes the hoops and the mercenariness of the process feel even more stressful and hoopy and mercenary. But we’re both praying and asking God to help us discern where He wants us to invest. We’re in this for Him in the end, after all. And in the end I hope we’ll discover that what was in it for us was actually Him.

Learning the Part

About a week before Confirmation I met with the kids individually to talk about their statements of faith. Most of them genuinely wanted to get confirmed, but almost all of them also had some concerns about making the commitment for the long haul–what if they believed differently when they grew up? One of the teens in particular was more than a little bit hung up on this, so I tried helping her envision Confirmation as the first step on the journey with God. The journey metaphor is, as we have already implied, kind of standard for talking about spiritual growth and development. I thought maybe it would make sense to her because, you know, on a journey, you don’t stay in the same place. But something did not compute, and although she reiterated that she wanted to get confirmed, something still felt a little uncertain.

We were at a coffee shop, and so eventually the conversation turned more casual and she started talking about a play that she had been in earlier that year. She talked about what it was like being in her drama group at school and about all the practices and about how sometimes even when you practice for most of a semester, one show might go fantastically and in another, you might forget your lines or something. I had already been mulling over NT Wright’s article for a few weeks, and so I guess I was already thinking of plays as another spiritual metaphor, and suddenly, even though it wasn’t exactly the same metaphor Wright had drawn, the spotlight clicked on or something.

“Hey!” I said, “What if you thought about Confirmation as a commitment to be in the play?”

“What?” asked my teen-aged friend.

“Like, when you commit to being in a play, you probably have an idea about the basic plotline, but you don’t necessarily know which character you’re going to be, or how the play develops, or any of your lines. But you try out for it and get chosen and then you commit to learning it. And you do it over and over and over, and sometimes you still don’t get it right, but you stick with it because you’ve committed to the play. What if you thought about Confirmation and the beginning of the Christian life like that?”

“Oh!” she said. “Yeah, that makes a lot more sense.”

The more I think about it, the more it makes sense to me, too. Maybe the Holy Spirit is the Director of the play, but it seems that the life of faith is a lot about practice, a lot about discipline, and that through that discipline and practice, we become more and more a part of the Story, and the Story becomes more and more a part of us. The more we allow the Holy Spirit to direct us, the more we move into our individual parts in the play–in concert with each other–and in that way, the freer we are to become ourselves.

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Anime Good-Byes

One of the girls in the youth group drew this amazing piece of art. Then everyone signed it. Then they had it framed.

That's a Jenn Story

(c) Rachel E. Lindfors
I might have cried when I got this. Maybe a little …

The Fashionable Nine-Year-Old also went all anime with her farewell:

That's a Jenn Story

So the question is, do any animes EXIST? And therefore, will they really miss me?

That's a Jenn Story

I think I see now …

Another favourite farewell drawing, by a lovely and artistic 10-year-old, is the one below, and with it (even though there were so many other great drawings) I conclude this post.

That's a Jenn Story

I confess–part of why I love this so much is that that female figure there is actually discernible as me. Also, the artist spells “Jenn” right–four times! And who doesn’t like having children tell you they love you?

It occurs to me that really, kids are usually better at the good-bye thing than adults.