Saturday, September 24, 2011

work that worth the work

I've been at my new position as Interim Chaplain at Hollins University for over three weeks now, and I'm way overdue for some processing.  And yet, I feel reluctant to begin, partially because I'm so tired, and even more because I feel so...full.  It's hard to put into words the insights I've gained, the connections made, the stress I've felt, and the affirmation I've received. 

I knew from the beginning that God was planting my steps in this direction.  I've felt a calling to college ministry (particularly with women) for years.  My own experiences as a college student in the Baptist Student Union helped lead me in the direction of ministry as a vocation, and I served as an intern in the same BSU as a seminary student.  Yet budget cuts and ministry restructuring within the Baptist organization made campus ministry impossible when I was searching for my first ministry job.  But my time as a youth minister and then Director of Christian Education/chaplain at a group home continued to hone my gifts of relationship-building, and continued to deepen my interest in mentoring young women.

After shifts at work left me feeling burned out and apathetic, I knew it was time for a switch.  I couldn't imagine anything I wanted or was qualified to do, but kept feeling at home during visits to Hollins University for Brady's preschool programs (his preschool was right across the road and used the campus often).  I thought to myself that it would be a perfect (if largely unlikely) possibility.  Yet, within months, I heard that the beloved chaplain of 24 years was leaving, and I quickly made contacts and sent in my interest letter.  I bounced between feeling that it was a God-ordained situation and that I was woefully unqualified.  I continue to bounce between those extremes, but feel amazingly blessed to have been given this chance to serve as chaplain.

I have found the campus and its students to be warm and welcoming.  I have made many attempts at reaching out (not always my strength as an introvert), but have found it to be effective as people are starting to reach out to me in return.  While my first event was a little crushing in terms of response and attendance (low), there has been growth and interest in the two following events.  Dialogues have been initiated and I feel like I'm becoming somewhat known on campus.

It has also been humbling.  Not everything has gone well and I've already had to work my way through a couple of conflicts.  It has been a growing and stretching experience.  I'm stumbling to find boundaries in work that could easily become all-encompassing.  There are never enough hours, and my phone rarely stops "dinging" from all the incoming emails.  My daughter has cried asking to come see me at "Collins" and has asked me not to go to work.  I've had to surrender a lot of responsibility to my fantastic husband and haven't yet learned how to give up the guilt from that.  But it's been a lesson to me, too, in how well my family has managed and how supportive they have remained.

The bottom line?  I love it, and I feel loved.  I'm finding my place, finding my people, and finding God in so many new ways.  I'm learning my gifts and my weaknesses, and how to reach out for help.  I'm seeing that I will be learning for years and years to come, and I'm excited about growing again.  The work is tremendous, and it's hard to build a program at a secular university that is fantastically diverse.  It is hard to go beyond my natural tendencies and reach out continuously.  The work rarely lets up, and I go from one event to planning the next (and all the unexpected things and meetings that come in between).  I am exhausted most of the time and living on too little sleep.  But I am energized by it, and am so thankful to God for work that is worth all the work.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


My husband and I often joke that we are always on the verge of a catastrophe.  With two young kids and an old house, we're never quite sure what problem may pop up.  Our children are not the most graceful, either, so usually we're sucking in our breath as one teeters on the edge of falling, or makes an unwise leap off of the furniture.  We feel so blessed, however, to have missed many of the "almost" emergencies, especially when we hear the struggles of others.

Last night was other close call.  I was at work listening to a somber academic panel on 9/11: Ten Years Later and kept hearing a buzzing sound.  I couldn't believe someone could be getting so many phone calls.  Then I realized the floor under my feet was buzzing, and it was, in fact, my phone.  As a parent, you know instantly that constant phone calls do not bring good news, so I jumped up, pushed past the university president and my boss, who had the misfortune of sitting near me, and ran out to the car while checking the frantic texts, missed calls, and voicemails from my worried husband.  He was on his way to the ER with Brady, who had tumbled head-first down our flight of steep, uncarpeted steps. 

When I arrived at the hospital at what seemed like hours later (although driving 80 mph likely got me there within minutes), I found our sweet boy in one piece. 

After multiple x-rays, he returned to his talkative, inquisitive self, and made sure they showed him the pictures before sending us back to his room.  He was quick to tell everyone he was in his 16th day of kindergarten at Glen Cove Elementary, and was excited about the stickers he received, anxious to show them to his classmates the next day.  John and I were sure by this point that he was okay, although we were still nervous wrecks.  It didn't take us long to start worrying over the $250 co-pay and the bill we will receive for the x-rays...and yet, still so grateful for his clean bill of health. 

So the first night of the kids sleeping in their new "big kid" beds did not go as smoothly or as long as we had hoped.  Fortunately, our gracious neighbors entertained Maryn at their house, and she was excited to eat cheeseburgers and have stories read to her.  Brady enjoyed his adventure, and we were all grateful to God for escaping a potential tragedy.

Life is full of so much grace, and yet there lurks so much fear.  I have friends struggling with so many serious burdens, and yet they seem more at peace than I do with my little inconveniences and scares.  I worry that my faith is not strong enough, that I could not survive such tests, and I fear that I will be tested.  I spend so little of my time thanking God for the multitude of mercy and grace that we experience and instead waste away the time quaking in fear of the unknown and the "maybes".  And then my fearless children dive headfirst (not always literally, thank God) into the world day after day. 

Brady, the morning after his ordeal, came downstairs and then began cheering for himself.  "Mommy!" he said, excited, "I didn't fall down the stairs this time!"

Thank God for the lessons learned in falling, and for picking us back up, every single time.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Jumping in

Forgive me, blogger, for I have slacked off.  It's been a couple of weeks since my last post.  So long, in fact, that I'm out of practice.  My writing bones are creaking and my mushy brain is reeling from the strain.  There's so much to write about, so much to process, that I don't know where to begin.  And thus the silence.  But it's now or never, I guess, and I enjoy this process too much to give it up.  I suppose blogging is a calling itself.

Over the past two weeks, I've sent my baby boy off to kindergarten, and my baby girl off to full-day preschool.  I've ended my 8 year position for a new job asinterim  chaplain of Hollins University (after juggling the two concurrently for a crazy two weeks).  I've said "goodbye" and "hello" over and over, and I've been welcome, affirmed, missed, and bid good riddance (okay, maybe not the least not outloud!).  I've met numerous new people, learned countless new procedures and processes, and worried how I would remember it all.  And yet, all has been touched by the spirit of God.  There is a newness and energy even in my exhaustion.  There is creativity and potential even as I have the arduous task of following a beloved chaplain of 24 years.  There has been the grace and opportunity to serve alongside and learn from my predecessor over the past few weeks and I'm so grateful for her gentle, supportive, and honest guidance.  I've fallen in love with this ministry and am dreaming far beyond the 10 months they've promised me, praying that I have years to explore and learn and teach.  I've felt both younger and older than my 34 years.  Sometimes I get swept up in the spirit of campus life and almost forget I'm not still a(n official) student, but, thank God, there are also times when the realization hits with relief.

I've felt guilt at the added hours away from my family and for the household tasks that I've had to surrender.  And yet I'm so thankful and proud of my capable husband who is handling it all with grace and love.  It is all such a gift, and I'm humbled by it.

There is still much to learn and many ways in which to go.  I have to make my own boundaries, for this job could quickly suck up my entire life.  I have to prioritize, or the minutiae could bury me.  I have to learn to let go (of fears, of unreasonable expectations, of comparisons) and jump wholly into the unknown, trusting that I've been given all I need.

My children, entering their new worlds with wonder and bravery, give me a great example to follow.