It does this every year, you know. October, I mean. Somehow without my turning the crank the summer goes from green to golden to a glorious flash of red and orange and then scatters on the wind, leaving the naked fingers of the maples pointing accusingly at the sky.
I take solace in the turning of the seasons, that something is always going to come next; that if winter (they say) is coming, surely spring will follow. In the mean time, that’s a pot I don’t personally have to stir.
I had imagined blogging more this summer and autumn, but life had other plans. I realized today that it has been five years since I discerned my call to ministry, four years since I started seminary, three years since I had a… difficult and unexpected detour. And here we are, at — not the end, but the beginning. Or at least the middle. It is, after all, all made of middle. And so instead of blogging I’ve been attending to all the other pieces of life: art and family, reading required books and preparing my credentialing packet for my MFC interview this winter, figuring out whether or not I have cancer, diving into the last year of my internship and the final classes to complete my MDiv.
One of these things is not like the other.
There are few things quite as bone-chilling as a phone call from your doctor saying, “Come in today, we need to talk about your test results. It’s complicated.”
That sign points to places no one ever plans to go.
It came about two days before the start of the fall semester.
So the last few weeks have been an exercise in waiting, nose to nose with mortality and the unknown, clear in the understanding that whatever was going on might be a false alarm, or a benign and manageable condition, or something potentially life-threatening; clear that the spread of what might need to happen next ranged anywhere from “nothing at all, move on” to “pull out all the stops immediately;” and meanwhile all the small, interdependent moving parts of a life on the cusp of vocation to professional ministry were still there and no less demanding than without their new, strange, attention-grabbing bedfellow.
Blogging didn’t happen.
Trying to articulate a plan for the future of my ministry while waiting for a potentially life-limiting diagnosis has got to be the weirdest thing I’ve done yet. The cognitive dissonance was almost palpable. You really can NOT make this stuff up.
I’m talking about answering questions like “Tell us about the future of your ministry and how you envision serving our association in the future?” when what comes to mind is, “Well, I would really like to be here to do that;” and trying to schedule meetings about a proposed congregational initiative with space for an imaginary chemo calendar; and wondering whether any of the necessary travel is, in fact, going to be able to happen; and generally just not knowing all the sorts of things we ordinarily take for granted about our lives, right up until the moment we can’t.
But that’s the thing, isn’t it?
There are not ever any guarantees. There never were. We… want security, and it’s okay to want it; that’s a human thing, a deep need. Push that tender place too hard and people panic and fight. But on the other hand, to be too comfortable, to structure systems in ways that allow us never to confront our deep, fragile vulnerability — that’s not good either. We miss important things that way.
Spoiler alert: everybody dies in the end.
It’s what happens between now and then that matters.
As it turns out, two months of various scans and tests let me more or less off the hook: I don’t have cancer, at least not right now; instead, I have a new diagnosis of a rare and poorly-understood autoimmune disorder that looks an awful lot like a particular kind of cancer on diagnostic imaging. And so I’m back to waiting – waiting for a referral to a specialist that knows something about this, waiting to find out what, if anything, need be done about it. I have been here on the edge of the unknown for long enough that it’s starting to feel like home. That’s a hell of a place to begin a ministry.
And I’m grateful. Grateful for the support of colleagues and friends who listened to me freak out; grateful for the insight into this end of the medical process; grateful for the whole scary hot mess as a catalyst for reflection — and grateful for the reprieve, that I get the next few months of my life and ministry back.
There are not ever any guarantees. It’s what we do now, next, from where we are and with what we have, that matters.