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.

heartache

Until my father died suddenly, on a snowy, cold January day 23 years ago yesterday, I always assumed the word “heartache” was simply a metaphor.

Now I know better. I don’t feel it every day anymore, thank goodness, but I still do, a lot more often than I’d like, as though a cold, clammy hand is squeezing my heart until it hurts. Sometimes, when I’m alone, I double over from the pain, and wail, keen, at the top of my voice. I remind myself, repeatedly, that “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

I’m not trying to be maudlin, or melodramatic. Just honest about the intensity of the grief, partly because I know I am not the only one who lives with this deep aching void, even though our society doesn’t encourage us to talk about it.

And it’s good to talk about our losses, our grief. To share our stories. The pain never goes away completely, but together, we can help each other heal. Heal to the point where our memories bring us joy, not pain, and our hearts, although cracked, are even more able to love compassionately than before.

The absence of you
Carved a hole in my chest,
still aching
despite the passing of time.
If I could talk to you now,
fix my gaze upon your face,
or rest in your unwavering embrace
I wouldn’t let go,
I’d say I couldn’t get through.
Nothing could have prepared me
for the absence of you.
–Sarah Elle Emm

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pray for paris, but remember

PRAY FOR PARIS

yes, pray for Paris
but remember
before They attacked Paris
They bombed Beirut
They brought down a Russian airliner
They killed one hundred in Egypt
They have slaughtered thousands in Syria and Iraq
and they are not done yet
so pray not just for Paris
pray for Our entire broken, bleeding, world
for We are all in this
Together

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