Obviously, my attempt at the A to Z Blogging Challenge was a complete failure. I solemnly promise to do better next year! I’m afraid my depression, fibromyalgia, and migraines (I’m in perimenopause–yay) got the better of me–that, and trying to keep up with my last required class for my master’s degree. As you can see, I like taking pictures of the books I am reading; it makes me feel brilliant and learned, somehow.












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.

on second chances

I found out last week that I have been accepted into the Master’s of Theology Program at St. Kate’s! Talk about a boost! I was so terrified–convinced, actually–that I’d be rejected that getting that phone call (the director of the program notified me by phone) felt like I’d suddenly come out into light after walking in darkness for eons. For so many years it’s seemed as though I’ve been dealing with nothing but fibromyalgia, migraines, depression, PTSD, losing my mom…it feels as though this is my reward. My second chance at life. Hopefully, the beginning of a lifetime of using what I’ve learned from my own personal tragedies, as it were, to help people who are hurting and in need of someone to be a loving, listening presence.

N.B. This is partially lifted from my application essay:

People often look at me strangely when I tell them I hope to work as a chaplain. They ask if it isn’t depressing, if I couldn’t make more money in another business [author’s reply: YES I COULD MAKE TONS MORE MONEY ELSEWHERE], why I don’t just volunteer at a hospital once a week, if what I want to do is work with sick people. But for me, it feels like a call, as though it’s exactly the place God wants me to be, the thing that is most true to who I am as a person. What I remember most about my experiences as a chaplain intern is the sense of total honor,to be allowed to companion people during the most sacred, awe-inspiring moments of their lives–including, yes, the moment of their death.

For years, ever since I was first diagnosed with PTSD, I’ve longed, desperately, to somehow find meaning in my suffering by someday using my brokenness to help heal the pain of others. And when I began my first C.P.E. (Clinical Pastoral Education, basically a chaplain internship) at St. Joseph’s Hospital, working with cancer patients, and the following summer at the VA Medical Center working with WWII combat vets still carrying the emotional ravages of all they had seen decades ago, I discovered that I had a certain authenticity. Because I’d been there, too. Maybe I hadn’t had cancer, but I was familiar, through personal experience, with psychic and physical pain, and many of the spiritual questions that inevitably arise from it. I found that mixed in with the sorrow, and my frequent feeling of incompetence and awkwardness, were moments of true connection, of utter holiness. The “thin places,” as my Irish ancestors would say: the mystical moments when earth and heaven meet.

Over ten years ago, after my summer at St. Joseph’s, I wrote a short piece for The Catholic Spirit in answer to their question “Who is my neighbor?”; more than anything else I’ve written here I feel this brief narrative explains why I’ve chosen the ministry I have. And it also shows that in this ministry, so far, I’ve gained far more than I’ve given.

Dwarfed by the hospital bed, surrounded by IVs and beeping monitors, she was a tiny, frail elderly woman with enormous haunted dark eyes dominating a white face. A native of Poland, she spoke little English, but was nonetheless able to understand the diagnosis: inoperable stomach cancer. Six months, maybe less, to live.

I was a chaplain intern with a grand total of three weeks experience, observing my first hospice consult. What could I, a 27-year-old graduate student, possibly say to a lonely frightened dying woman who didn’t even speak English?

As I stood huddled in a corner of the room and watched, a tear formed in one of those dark eyes and slid slowly down her face. Then another. And another. Her fragile body began to shake; and suddenly I found myself far from the safety of my hidden corner, my inexperience forgotten, my arms around her and my face buried against her shoulder, I dug out my little blue plastic rosary, and as we wept and prayed together, the healing love of Christ transcended the gulf between us, overcoming the barriers of language and age, binding us together as fellow pilgrims walking hand in hand on our journey home.

Note: I should explain here, for those who don’t know me well, that I was in the M.Div program at the Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity for about three years in my mid-twenties. I dropped out in 1997 when my fibromyalgia, depression, and PTSD made it too difficult to function, much less handle grad school. It’s been my dream, ever since, to return to school, get my degree, and become a chaplain (hospital or hospice). Incidentally, none of my classes/credits transfer to St. Kate’s, because it’s been over ten years since I did my coursework. This is fine with me, actually, since my memory of those days is hazy, to say the least. It feels great to start afresh!

gifts in the rubble

Yes, I’m still a redhead. No, I’m not planning to change my haircolor. I did rename this blog, formerly known as “The Redhead Report” however, because I wanted a title that is more congruent with what I’m feeling the urge to write about these days. Like many others I know, I’ve been through what, I guess, is a lot in my forty years (some days it seems like more than others!) but I’ve come to find that there many gifts that come with the healing process.

(Note: The following is taken from my grad school application essay.)

Sometimes, we find the greatest gifts in the rubble and detritus of our broken, shattered dreams. Grace, I have discovered, has a way of catching us unawares. We are all called to sainthood; each of us is designated to do the thing that we alone can do in this world to help bring about the Kingdom of God and spread the Gospel. Yet it may be that it is only through our encounters with the deepest, darkest depths that we can begin to see, clearly, the light, to discover our place in the pattern, and only then that we become filled with gratitude for God’s love and grace.

I was diagnosed with severe post traumatic stress disorder at the age of 19. I was a consummate over-achiever in college–honor society, merit scholarships, a coveted internship with Senator Ted Kennedy–and I guess I assumed the world was mine for the taking: the sky was the limit. Then the flashbacks began, followed by the nightmares, the depression. My grades dropped, many of my friends turned away, my dreams of law school faded, and, it seemed, my world turned to ashes.

Yet as so frequently happens with God, the very weakness I despised led to my greatest discovery. For in my vulnerability, my brokenness, my comprehension of my complete, utter powerlessness, I gradually came to accept my total dependence on God, and God alone. It was only as I clutched desperately, in my despair, to the God who was all I had left, that I came to glimpse God’s boundless, infinite love and compassion.

I was painfully forced to re-imagine the God of my childhood: the benevolent traffic controller who lived up above the clouds, in heaven. One by one, I discarded all of the platitudes I’d always heard during bad times, such as “everything happens for a reason” and “well, it must be God’s will.” Examining these old assumptions, I decided, firmly, that they didn’t meet the test of child rape (which is what happened to me). I could not love or even respect, I knew, a God who could will something so evil, so destructive, to happen–for any reason. Forced to let go of the omnipotent, all-powerful God of my youth, I have slowly come to embrace, with surprising joy, the Christ of the Paschal Mystery. The thoroughly immanent God who chose to become one with us for no other reason than His immense love for us, and desire to call us to Himself.

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