Taking my dogs out for their morning break from sleeping  on the couch inside to napping in the sun outside, I brought my garden shears with to deadhead some of the flowering plants. In the newness of summer, the gardens around our home are vibrant and young even amidst hard, rocky and clay-filled ground. Not the best place to flourish, but with consistent tending and lots of water the gardens are blossoming and they bring delight, not just to me, but to others who roll down windows or walk past and acknowledge the abundance and beauty in nature.

For the uninitiated, deadheading is cutting away the blooms of a plant that have flowered  thereby encouraging new blooms.When you deadhead a plant you cut away old and dying growth, just above the next set of leaves in order to encourage new growth. While stopping over each plant, clipping the flowered parts it dawned on me, the first half of this year for me has been much like the deadheading I was doing.

This year, by fate or by chance, much of my life has been about clearing away that which no longer blooms. The dead and the decayed, the wasted time and the wilted flowers, once in full bloom are no longer living.

Being abandoned by those whom we expect to love us leaves us more vulnerable to losses farther on. Losing the geographical closeness of those I love, although painful can be overcome. Even when expected, losing one who loved without condition doesn’t imply that there will be less heartbreak or grief attached to the loss. Like cut flowers in a vase, I try to arrange and re-arrange the losses in my mind. There is no suitable arrangement. Gathering them together only brings sadness.

Determining what no longer works and what no longer fits has left me brokenhearted and weary. I mistakenly placed trust in systems and institutions, only to be betrayed by the energy they expend keeping the status quo.  Those who were charged to help mediate when empowerment became power over, became silent and few. It is easier to stop a few lone voices than it is to listen actively seeking change, compromise and growth. It is difficult to discard integrity when the thundering herd trample it. In order to belong we will do most anything.  When ethics get in the way, they are labeled inconvenient, irrelevant, unnecessary.

Watching the flowers fall, I’m realizing that equipoise between belonging and integrity no longer exists in my current spaces. Revisiting the lessons I thought I learned a decade or so ago leaves me feeling humbled, hurt and chagrined. How wise I thought I was. How much I have yet to learn.

Sad and somber but nonetheless spirited I’ll retreat, remove myself from much of my current life and find new, perhaps more forgiving and fertile places on which to plant and garden. Life blesses me everyday and I find that now I need to  figure out how to grieve and yet find time and energy to welcome what comes next. I’m not yet ready to embrace anything wholeheartedly. Perhaps what I need to do is embrace moments, rejoicing in the idea that there is no need to do anything but allow time and love to heal.

Tending the garden offers time to reflect on remembrances, sunlit and shadow-filled. Whether hot or cooler, cloudy or sunny, the plants demand my time and attention. They bask in the light of day, no matter what the forecast brings. If I am attentive to their needs they mostly turn their face to the sky, facing whatever comes. Even fallen they impart a sense of muted beauty. May I do the same.imageimageimage


Travelling the Road Part two writing 101

By the time I became the first ever board certified chaplain in my healthcare system, no seminary, no college, no ecclesiastical endorsement ( a statement from the ordaining denomination), and only one unit of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) or some church experience was required to become a chaplain in our system. My departmental manager’s lack of credentials had become departmental standards. I had worked to become an asset, in a system where negative consequences were now the rule for positive achievement. Trusted friends responded with sadness, compassion and understanding when I told them it was time to go.

I spend my days in relief and in grief. Relief from the stress of departmental policies, grief in this seemingly unfathomable outcome. It is as if someone is throwing a switch I seem to have no control over. Relief at not having to wonder whether I’ll trigger an office land mine for accomplishments I’ve worked for. Grief over the loss of work friends. Relief at being able to express myself without fear of reprisal. Grief over the loss of working with a staff chaplain who could finish my sentences. Relief that I have time to tend to the stuff piling up at home. Grief over reluctantly giving up work that I love.

It is easier to surround oneself with the burdens of others. This is particularly true in hospital ministry where a loss of a limb or an impending death is right in front of you. There is less time to think of one’s own concerns when caregiving to another. There was comfort in being too busy and wishing for time to do what I want. Now I have time; Where did all those things I want to do go? I am on a new path and I don’t know the way. My steps are uncertain. I don’t know this path.  The road signs seem to have vanished. Who am I, if not a chaplain?