Year in Review: 2016

It is the day when I sit down and write that I am not sure whether I want to write a year in review post, and then I do it anyway.

It has been, and will be, always and already, the beginning of the rest of my life.

I didn’t blog much this year – skipped posting in April and July entirely, in fact. Things happened off camera. Probably the most significant step for me was completing my required unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) in the spring, and taking on some very occasional, very part-time work as one of the many overnight on-call chaplains at my CPE site. I am planning to do a second CPE unit in the coming year, something I would not have imagined a year ago.

Six months out I can say that CPE was… formative? transformative? Those are the words people tend to use but I never found them helpful. Surely it is a subjective experience, and one that takes different shapes depending on the student and the supervisor and the cohort and the context. What my first unit did for me was help to clarify my call to pastoral caregiving – an area where I’ve had some internal (and external) resistance. I still marvel that I get to do this holy work of being present with people in their most vulnerable situations – and that even though I feel wholly unqualified and inadequate to the task, it is somehow, mostly, good enough. I’m still processing that. It leaves me with a sense of awe and wonder.

 

One of the deeper layers of that, a layer I’m still exploring, is the relationship between my own vulnerability and the holy work I do in the world. For all that I have done the hard work of healing from various traumas and setbacks I am still very much susceptible to shame and thinking I should hide those scars away, avoid those vulnerabilities, be swift and solid and secure. But during CPE it became clear – as it does, from time to time – that my tender and fragile heart is where my deepest listening and spiritual connection comes from. The mind is good at a lot of things but connection is not its strength. Intellect is fabulous but not the only useful thing; this soul-self is more mercurial and wild and needs to be treated gently – and is worth working with, because its gifts are also great, if harder to quantify.

A regret for this year is not making more art. I did make a quilt this fall, a small one, or mostly made it – but I still need to put the thing together. Stalled in the construction phase.


A major event that did not make it into the blog was the death of Spouse’s mother back in June; she left this world following complications of an extended illness that has been part of our lives for the last few years. It happened to be during my last month of CPE, and I was very grateful for that supportive environment. She was very much opposed to anyone outside the immediate family knowing what was going on with her health – in retrospect, I strongly suspect that things had been deteriorating far longer than Spouse and I were aware of – and so the end came as something of a shock to the extended family, even as it was both grief and release for those of us carrying the burden of silence.

People, don’t do that to your folks. Talk about that shit. Yes, it’s awkward. Do it anyway.

Anyway, when the time came to make arrangements, Spouse and his brother overruled my father-in-law, who had not wanted to have a memorial service, but acquiesced to them organizing something so long as he didn’t have to do anything but show up. Brother-in-law said he’d get the VFW hall and put together a gathering and someone suggested we do a short service and they all looked at me.

“Well,” I said, “I’d be honored to do it, but y’all do know I haven’t done a memorial service yet, right?”

My father-in-law grinned and patted me on the arm. “Well then, you do this one for practice.”

So that’s how I ended up doing my mother-in-law’s memorial service. It was fitting, somehow. We had knocked skulls often over the years, two very stubborn people with an array of bad habits in common, but we were starting to finally sort things out before the end.

Besides, officiating the memorial service meant that I was wearing my preaching shoes. It’s much easier to be on my good behavior when I’m dressed for the part.


 

This September I started my student ministry (two years, half-time) and am starting to slowly integrate there. I’ve led worship a couple of times and been to a lot of committee meetings and still not quite sure exactly what my role is. Half time feels like not quite enough time, but I am trying to keep to it: partly to set good precedent should they ever get another intern, and partly because I want to leave space in my life for other things like this coming CPE unit, and MFC preparation next year. I still have one more class to take, but it isn’t offered this spring, so I will be taking that next year. I hope.

It is a little hard making the mental shift from “graduation and credentialing are forever away” to “OMG this is COMING and PANIC and DO ALL THE THINGS.” There are some workshops and such I need to pick up next time they are offered. And paperwork. Holy mother of recycling, the paperwork. I despair of paperwork. There’s got to be a better way to do this. No, really.

The election this fall threw me for an emotional loop, as was true for a lot of people. Not that I was especially invested in any particular candidate, just that the level of vitriol that emerged late in the campaign – especially given the electoral upset in the presidential race – triggered an emotional flashback to my Reagan-era childhood: the sure knowledge that nothing is safe or certain and the world could come to an end at any uncontrollable moment. Flashbacks are a pain in the ass. Now that I understand why my soul does that, and am getting better at recognizing them when they show up, I seem to be learning how to get out of them instead of getting tangled in them and stuck there. But it is an occupational hazard of caring about the ills of the world that I occasionally get poked in my tenderest unhealed places.

Family holidays have been interesting. My mother-in-law was always the ringleader for everybody doing all the things for the holidays, and so this year has been the year of renegotiation of traditions and sometimes doing everything but. I worked at the hospital for Thanksgiving and the guys didn’t do a big dinner and nobody made the mysterious hamburger-based side dish that had been a staple of the turkey-day dinner table and nobody minded. I worked at the hospital for Christmas too, and Spouse and I went out for Chinese food when I got home and opened presents, many of which had been culled, I mean, curated by my brother-in-law from their mom’s estate. There’s probably a sermon in all this, or several: the value of tradition, the willingness to step away from the way we’ve always done it when the way we’ve always done it isn’t serving the needs of who we are now, and the willingness to hang onto old things in our back pockets just in case some day later they might be exactly what we need.

Other parts of my life include lots of petting the elderly black cat, who is firmly convinced that my job is to be her furniture. She objects to my nights away and complains mightily to Spouse. I am grateful for this small warm beanbag of highly conditional and demanding affection; not entirely sure she will be here next New Year’s Eve. They do not stay forever, and so, we may appreciate them all the more.

And so, onward. To life and love and defiance in the face of overwhelming uncertainty.

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