Learning to rest: The Pastor and Self-Care

My first semester of training to be a chaplain (called CPE — Clinical Pastoral Education) introduced me to the concept of “self-care.” Not in a hedonistic, it’s-all-about-me kind of way. It was instead about the idea of personal boundaries and best use of self. It also was about preserving my longevity as a pastor. And it challenged my understanding of my being.

You see, I was a musician in my first careers. It was all about the product, the performance, the skills like tempo, dynamics and phrasing. The intricate underlayment of scales and arpeggios had to be executed perfectly. A passing grade, we musicians like to say, is 100%.

But that’s not how life works. And it’s also not how things fly in ministry. In the people-caring business, stuff gets messy. We botch stuff. A lot. This rankled. I didn’t like it.

I had to redefine myself. It was not what I could DO. It was not based on my performance. It was all about who I am, down to the deepest part of my BEing.

I struggled. (I still do!)

The pianist/vocalist/worship leader has to take a step back. The person, the pastor/chaplain (who is still a musician, parent, wife and family member) needs to leave room for do-overs. And there also has to be time to rest.

I’ve always been a 1000% kind of gal. My mom once described me as “busy.” As a toddler, I was forever getting into something. As number 5 out of 7 kids, I think I made it to school age because of lots of baby gates, older siblings, and strategic placement of furniture. (This was not my parent’s first rodeo. But apparently, I tried some new tricks.) I would go until I crashed. Get up, and go again. I guess you could say I wasn’t afraid of a challenge.

IMG_6450But ministry is not a race. It is first a relationship with God, and cultivating the soul. That’s not something that survives on speed-dating. It’s a long walk. It’s being still and knowing. It’s finding a way to tune my heart to God’s heart.

So I took a magic pill of two parts Wisdom and one part Peace, and now I don’t struggle with this any more. One day I just woke up and – POOF! – all my problems were gone. I was a great pastor, an amazing chaplain, a good wife and mom and a bestie of friends.

And that was a lie. I hope you caught the sarcasm…

No… it’s much more a process of learning to take breaks. To walk outside. To read, pray and listen. To go get a pedicure and massage. To pet one of our cats, and focus on slowing my breathing. To go swim a few laps not just because I need exercise (though I do) but to feel the pleasure of water sliding across my arms and legs.

To be mindful that this journey I am experiencing is completely in God’s hands.

Even the days that suck.

ESPECIALLY the days that suck.

And to find a way to see God in the midst of my life.

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above!
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

- Rev. Robert Robinson, 1735-1790

Friday Five: Applesauce!

applebutterIt’s my week to host the RevGals’ Friday Five! Play along if you like in the comments, or leave a link to your blog!

 

This is the first of three batches of applesauce and applebutter created in my kitchen this month. And it’s the inspiration for this week’s Friday Five!

1. What’s your best homemade treat? Is it worth all the effort? (It doesn’t have to be something canned. )

I’m a pretty darn good bread-baker. It’s a skill I learned from my Mom, and the smell of fresh bread baking when we came home from school was (and is) one of my favorite smells. Here’s a link to one of my favorite bread recipes: Honey and Oats Bread.

2. At our house, applesauce and football are the harbingers of fall. What are they at your house?

Well, I wrote this question, so yes, applesauce and football. Ohio State football, to be precise.

3. Someone gave me an “automatic” apple peeler from one of those home cooking product shows. (It doesn’t work all that great.) What’s one kitchen contraption or tool you’d gladly trade me for it?

I will SERIOUSLY entertain your quest to relieve me of this contraption. Make me an offer! :)

4. Whose the best chef in your home? Why?

That would be Reedy Girl, who is an amazing baker. Among her specialties, brownies, baklava and creme brûlée. OH MAN…

IMG_0386

5. Cider, apple juice, or hard cider? Discuss.

I love a hot mulled cider! But a hard cider with dinner also slips down pretty easily.

BONUS: Recipes! You know we love ‘em!

This is a recipe I made up this week: Apple Butterscotch Crumble.  Early reviews gave it a big “thumbs up.” It’s relatively low in sugar and can be made gluten-free if you use the right ingredients!

Creating Space

It's a walk by faith and not by sight.

Rest when you’re weary.
Refresh and renew yourself,
your body, your mind, your spirit.
Then get back to work.

Ralph Marston

We are just around the corner from starting the final quarter of 2014. Almost nine months have elapsed since I received a “Star Word” – a word for reflection and application in my life for the New Year. (I write more about Star Words here – check it out!)

Now as my Jewish colleagues and friends begin the celebration of the Jewish New Year on Rosh Hashanah, I found it appropriate to reflect on my “Star Word” again. My word for 2014 is VITALITY – things that bring or encourage life and growth.

In my work as a chaplain, there are many times that I get frustrated or I am, quite simply, depleted. I have no emotional or physical reserves, because the work I do is one of listening and walking with others. I seek to bring perspective, hope, and sometimes, emotional and spiritual healing. There are days I get home and I just want to relax. But life has a way of asking more — and for the love of family and friends, I do try.

What gets me from day to day is remembering that I do NOT ever have to go, flat out, 1000%, hyper-focused on the needs of others. In fact, to be a good chaplain, I have to remember my own questions and needs. I am creating space where I can refresh and grow, and then pick up my work or my tasks.

Vitality means that I find the spark of joy and life around me. It’s learning how to see brightness on a gloomy rainy day. How to find humor in the most difficult times. And I am better at learning when to say, “I’ll be back with you in a bit” and take a breather.

As the seasons move from summer to autumn, I am spending time in my garden, weeding, raking, transplanting and trimming. I’m enjoying the last blooms on my rose bush, the end of the lush green in my yard. I’m seeing the migration of the hummingbirds begin, and the noise of the geese increasing.

I have carved out time to walk the labyrinth in our back yard. Standing or walking slowly, I note the changes that are beginning to herald the coming of autumn. It is beautiful. Refreshing. Renewing. And sobering. Wasn’t it just June, with humidity and mosquitos? I marvel at the way the months melt away.

I have a tendency to rush from one assignment to the next – when perhaps I need to stop and wind up a few thoughts first. So I invite you to watch for the signs of the turning of the season with me. And remember to REST. And then… get back to work.

In this season of refreshment, renewal and reflection, I am stopping for a moment to remember Whose I am, and Why I do the work I do. Perhaps this would be a good spiritual practice for you, too!

photo-115

To those of you who celebrate, I say, “L’shanah tovah!” May you indeed have a good year and a sweet one.

Ants in the Coffeepot (and other things that make me crazy)

IMG_0460-0For the last week or so, we have spotted ants on the kitchen counter. It was usually after a heavy rain, and it’s also as the weather begins to cool. We thought it was just the periodic foragers for fall, and made our usual precautions: moved the sugar bowl off the counter, put the honey bear in a water moat, and were scrupulous about cleaning the counters. We put out a few random “ant traps” but didn’t cover things with chemicals. This is, after all, where I prepare food!

This week the ants were busier, and there was a “line” of them. Stopping and “talking” in “ant code” and then bustling on back to their terminus, we would clean a few off the counter and go about our day. We kept looking for home base but didn’t find it. The usual suspects (the compost bucket and the honey bear) were carefully monitored. Last night I thought I had found the nest – under my African violet. I quickly rinsed the pot, moated it and went to bed, feeling victorious.

HUZZAH! No more ants!

(You know where this is going, don’t you?)

This morning, as Bearded Brewer was on his daily inspection and sleuthing of the ants, he moved the coffee pot. Lo and hehold, ants came streaming out of the back of the coffee pot! It’s the kind of pot that has a reservoir and a “cup-at-a-time” dispenser. And apparently, the dark, heated spot was ideal for warmth-seeking ants. He quickly poured his as yet uncaffeinated spouse a cup of coffee, and then moved the coffeepot outside.

I went to look at the pot. The bottom and inside were COVERED with ants! Not the part where the coffee brews or the reservoir where it is stored. Just all up underneath in the “guts” of the heating element and the wiring. I couldn’t wash it, and I didn’t want to put ant poison on it. Coffee with ant spray just doesn’t cut it.IMG_0459

This morning I’m going to buy a new coffeepot. I’m also going to call the refrigerator repair place and find out when they can come fix the ice-maker which is ( — correction — WAS) spraying water all over the kitchen wall, onto the floor.

Then I think I will solve one of the biggest mysteries of the universe: why cats always hork a hairball at least twice, and ALWAYS in the middle of the step. On carpet.

It’s the random little events that make me nuts. Not the big crises. I seem to be able to rise to the moments of greatest need for myself or those I care about.

But the jerk on the Beltway that cuts me off? Ants in my coffeepot? Hork on the basement steps? A busted refrigerator waterline? THOSE nibble at my patience and scrape away at my self-indulgence. And they are minuscule inconveniences in the grand scheme of things.

May we each remember what matters and get upset by the things which are world-changing. Despite my desire for morning caffeination, ants in the coffeepot doesn’t make the list.

 

SDG

 

 

 

Friday Five: Random is Back!

Karla hosts this week’s Friday Five over at RevGalBlogPals:

 

1. If you could sneak away anywhere this weekend, right now, all expenses paid, where would you go and what would you do?

I’d head back here… walk on the beach, read and sleep. And NOT answer my cell phone!

Sunset

 

2. What is for lunch today? (one of the very first FF I ever played asked this.)

I’ve learned that as a hospice chaplain, I have to have a “finger food” type lunch. I learned the hard way that eating a salad or a messy sandwich just doesn’t cut it. I try to pack one that has protein in it and is do-able on the run. So today’s Gourmet Guide includes: baby carrots, a drinkable yogurt, string cheese, peanut butter on rye, and a sliced apple.

3. Along that first-FF-I-ever-played theme, what are you wearing today?

Grey slacks, blue dress shirt and (I don’t care if it IS past Labor Day!!) white crochet-looking flats.

4. Along the Today Theme, what are you doing today?

Seeing 6-8 hospice patients and documenting their voluminous paperwork as required. That will take me until about 6 pm tonight. If I’m lucky, the traffic is light, and there’s no crises called in at 4:45!

5. Along the random theme, what is your favorite scent, and why?

I don’t like perfumes. They irritate my asthma. Natural smells like apples and cinnamon cooking to make apple butter are the ticket. Too bad these are not scratch-n-sniff!

applebutter

A Prayer for Hope and Peace

IMG_0447.JPG

Oh God
One who knows and sees all human hearts,
We remember.

We remember those lost in acts of violence:
Terrorism
Armed Conflict
Gun Violence
Abuse

We call to mind those who still struggle with these after-shocks:
Hurricanes
Floods
Tornados
Earthquakes

We ponder the lives missing from our lives:
Cancer
Congenital conditions
Medical mistakes
Infections
Disease

Humanly caused or a random weather event,
We still ask,
“Why?”

We have no answer
But Your abiding Presence
Your voice in the wind
Your hand in the clouds
Your beauty in creation
Your compassion demonstrated through others

Today
When we stop to remember
To think
To pray
To voice the yearnings of our hearts
Bring your hope
Give us your peace.

Thank you for always being
Our Compassionate Guide
Our Wisdom
And our comfort.

In Your most Holy Name
Amen.