so what now? 

Almost a year ago today, I received my Master of Arts in Theology from St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota. Actually, to be precise, my degree is a Master of Arts in Theology with a Concentration in Spirituality and a Certificate in Pastoral Theology. It took me six years to get that darn degree, thanks to fibromyalgia, bouts of chronic migraine, neck surgery after a car accident, and a quite nasty depression relapse.

Several things sustained me during this time: My husband’s unfailing support; the help and support of the incredible staff and faculty at St. Kate’s; and my belief that I was called, called by God, to pastoral care as a chaplain. I’d worked as a chaplain at the V.A. one summer in 1997 and for part of the previous summer in Oncology and General Medical-Surgical at a hospital in St. Paul. I loved it, loved it, even on the toughest, most exhausting days.

My fibromyalgia kept getting worse in my twenties and forced me to drop out of graduate school and give up on my dream of becoming a chaplain. But by my late thirties, new medications were  definitely easing the fibromyalgia pain and I remember telling my mom, before she died, that I was planning to go back and get my M.A., and she was so pleased!

And so I did. But in the end my pain defeats me again..not just fibromyalgia, but myofascial pain syndrome, multiple problems in my cervical spine, chronic migraines (yes, my Botox shots help, but I still get about ten a month). I can’t even volunteer, because I don’t know whether or not I’ll be well enough on any given day to appear when I say I will.

I’m angry. And frustrated. I’m not sorry I got my degree, because I love theology, and the knowledge and skills I gained, nothing–not even fibromyalgia–can take away from me. But I want so badly to use my degree to make a difference in the world, to help others to feel God’s love and mercy. It is so painful to mourn the loss of a dream…and to attempt to discern what God has in mind to take its place.

staring fear in the face

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” You must do the thing you think you cannot do.  (Eleanor Roosevelt)

 

 

 

something to ponder

Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved’. –Henri Nouwen

Graduation Dinner Reflection

At our graduation dinner last night the other four Master’s in Theology graduates and I were asked to submit short reflection related to our time as students and now graduates of the Theology Master’s Program at St, Catherine University. I wound up writing mine straight from the heart, so I’m afraid it was less about my favorite class or my most uplifting experience, but at least it had the virtue of being honest.

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I must admit that last week’s graduation was bittersweet. I was thrilled to be graduating, oh my goodness, yes, especially with my family there, and with my friend Sherri (who was absolutely glowing and stunningly beautiful); but at the same time I was fighting a migraine and on some fairly heavy-duty painkillers (!) and my fibromyalgia had me so sore that we went straight home afterwards instead of going out—where I sat around in my brand-new academic robes and hood and gorged myself on takeout pizza and watched bad WWII movies on Netflix with my husband George. Okay, so that part was fun, actually, and I wish we had thought to take photos of me stuffing mushroom pizza in my face wearing my graduation regalia!
The bittersweet part is that people keep asking me what is next, and I stumble around, trying to come up with something funny to say, and I’m at a loss. The dream that has kept me going, through the myriad of chronic pain conditions that has required me to drop classes and seek numerous extensions and medical leaves of absence (thanks Bill! (our super-understanding theology department head)) has been pastoral ministry, especially the idea of chaplaincy. That’s the whole reason I entered this program. And now these chronic pain conditions are making it impossible for me to hold down even a part-time job. Or be a reliable volunteer, much less work full-time as a hospice chaplain. So there is triumph in the degree, but grief and uncertainty when i contemplate my immediate future.
Still, there are several treasures  I will take away from this outstanding program to help guide me in my coming journey. I have met so many amazing, compassionate, loving people here at St. Kate’s, both faculty and students, who I am honored to count as role models, mentors, and friends. I know that your prayers go with me, just as mine go with you, and that our journeys together do not end here, but in many ways have only just begun. I am excited to continue growing as both a scholar of theology and as a pastoral minister. My studies here have opened so many doors! I feel I have only dunked my toe in the water. And, too, I will take all of your stories with me. I have had a rough time, yes. But I am not the only one. So many of you have done battle with your own pain, and done it with immense grace and courage, and I cannot tell you how much I admire you and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. Finally, I take with me the knowledge that I need to trust in the process, as Deb (my mentor and pastoral ministry prof.) told me recently. This is very difficult for me, (trust is not my strong point) but I know she is right—I need to learn to take better care of myself, and learn to trust that the Holy Spirit will lead me in the right direction, even if I don’t know where in the heck I am going now, beyond more physical therapy. After all, Someone helped me through comps!

A to Z Challenge: I is for Insecurity

This afternoon was going well, until I saw the email. Yesterday I cheered by an email from my professor, who said he wanted me to stay in his class despite my absence Tuesday night and that I was “intelligent and insightful”. Today, however, I check my email and discover an email from the Director of my program,saying that “I want to ask that you make your Tuesday evening class…your top priority (aside from self-care and your family). That is, so that you can finish this course, please do everything you can to be rested and ready for Tuesday evenings…For the next six weeks, please really try to focus in and finish the work for this course.”

Some background here: At the beginning of the semester I was getting terrible migraines (because I needed bifocals, as it turned out) and missed several classes, which is a huge deal in my program–classes only meet once a week, for three hours. I was asked to consider a medical leave, which is was, but then a couple of days later I discovered at my eye exam that my need for bifocals was causing my migraines. So I decided to stay in the class, and my prof and the Director agreed, as long as a gave him (the Director) a signed statement saying that I will make the class a top priority and not miss any more classes. Which I did. Then I get an email repeating almost verbatim what he said before. After I was so sick I had a fever of 101, hideous chills and sweats, etc., and I still showed up for class.

He did reiterate in his note that the faculty support me in finishing my degree, and that he knew I was a good student. But most of the letter seemed to imply that when I had problems finishing classes before–because of migraines, fibromyalgia, neck surgery, and a couple of nasty depression relapses–it was because I wasn’t focusing enough. Wasn’t trying hard enough. I have always really liked him, and I am feeling a bit…crushed, that he seems to think I’ve been slacking off in the past.

Sometimes, I wish people knew how much courage it takes to get up in the morning, knowing I’m going to be in pain all day. And I realize I may be projecting some of my insecurities on to this email. I do feel insecure a a good share of the time: if I just tried harder, couldn’t I beat this thing? (Well, things, in my case.)

I need more spoons.

However, one of my favorite authors did  come to my rescue:

One of the most beautiful ways for spiritual formation to take place is to let your insecurity lead you to the Lord. Natural hypersensitivity can become an asset; it makes you aware of your need to be with people as it allows you to be more willing to look at their needs (Henri Nouwen)

I could do with a little less hypersensitivity these days, though. It’s hard, as right at the moment I’m in the midst of a fibromyalgia flare and feeling very fragile thanks to my depression and PTSD. Now I have to figure out how to hand my insecurities and doubts about myself over to God. And my therapist.

Does anyone else out there feel fragile, like the least little thing will make you break? Or that if you just pulled yourself up by your bootstraps, as the saying goes, that you could be well?

Edit:I may have spoken too soon–at the end of the letter he tells me how glad he is I am in the Program. But this is still a good lesson on how deep my insecurities run.

A to Z Challenge

 

 

I think my migraines have totally addled my brain. I’ve had them all week, just when the A to Blogging Challenge began. I couldn’t find my blog on their Linky list, so I think I might have been removed for not posting. I DID post briefly yesterday about the Challenge, then removed my post because I thought I’d been taken off of the list; I just happened to look at my stats today, however, and I had five visits to that post yesterday. So. I will do the Challenge, starting today. I have to post every day this month except Sundays. So I will post today, starting with “E” and my theme is Healing.

I plan to recount my journey, post about where I am now, and add photos, other images, and quotes (I love quotes, especially poetry) along with a heavy dose of spirituality, the occasional prayer, some tips and tricks I have found that help. I should note here that I am writing about healing in general but also specifically about my struggles with severe PTSD and major depression, along with back surgeries, cervical spine disease, infertility, chronic migraine, and last but not least, fibromyalgia.I also hope to begin a resource list.

I am going to go ahead and post the badge and links to the Challenge even though I might not be officially a part of it. I am looking forward to discovering new bloggy friends from the list (the one I don’t think I am on anymore, lol). I also hope to post a couple of times the first few days to add posts from letters A to D. And next year, hopefully I will be more together and start blogging with “A” on April 1st!

And hopefully, even if I’m not officially part of the Challenge, my posts might help some of my friends out there who are going through a rough stretch.

The Downside of Compassion | Psychology Today

I had to forward this link; it captures perfectly the agonies of guilt I’ve felt ever since cutting off contact with my birth mom, because her emails were making my depression so much worse. It was horrible and I still feel so damn guilty…my psychiatrist, therapist, and husband (who have seen all of the emails and know the entire story keep telling me I am doing the right thing. But I still feel massive guilt.

Loss, Grief, Bereavement and Life Transitions Resource Library

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