I’ve had quite a trip since I wrote last; lots of things have happened. CPE has been very intense; I moved; I visited Ikea; I saw the Brooklyn Cyclone play; I wrote; I saw The Book of Mormon; I preached; and if putting together Ikea furniture was a requirement for ordination, I would be bishop by now.
I am exhausted.
I woke up an hour ago and all my joints hurt. My feet hurt. My spine hurts. My shoulders hurt. I don’t even really remember falling asleep last night. I know I laid down in the bed and then BAM, I was out. I didn’t hear the dog get comfortable. I don’t know what the cat did last night. And if there were any illegal fireworks in the morning, I missed them. I was gone like donkey kong.
CPE has been going well but it hasn’t been easy. The last ten days or so has been rough in the PICU. Many long time patients died. I was with one family for quite awhile over two days. I watched the mom and dad say goodbye and I did my best to comfort the entire family. But I made one big missed connection – I wasn’t able to connect with the mom. I wasn’t able to be the pastoral presence she needed me to be. She wanted me to be loud, to be controlling, and to distract her from the pain she felt. She wanted me to talk of miracles, of the power of God, of the restoration in the life to come. She wanted my theology to be brash and powerful. But that really isn’t me. I couldn’t create a sacred space that felt like it was running away from the reality around me. It’s not my theology nor did I have a set of tools that could turn off what I was feeling and what I needed in that moment. Although I did not know the child, I was mourning. I was feeling loss. I felt sad. And, try as I might, I couldn’t be an instrument of care only for the mom. I was ministering to an entire family (grandma, family friends, etc etc) where everyone (including me) needed a different presence, a different sacred space. I juggled but was never able to include the mom.
I know I failed to reach the mom because she called me out at one point. During a forty-five minute session of praying in tongues (which was a first for me), at one point she said that God wanted to speak to me. And she spoke, loudly and aggressively, criticizing my Lutheranism, my faith, my presence, and everything about me. At the time, I fumed. I got angry. But I kept it in check. I let her say her piece. She felt better afterwards while I did not. It was an interesting experience to have.
Most of my CPE experience has been similar in emotional impact as the death of that child. I’ve met people with loved ones are dying, children who are suffering, parents who are so angry that they no longer want to speak to anyone. CPE has been going well but it is really emotionally draining. The workload has increased. I’m sitting with patients longer. The required readings are a tad excessive. And the group analysis portion of the whole thing can get downright silly. But I really do enjoy my group mates. They really are the best. I don’t think it would be going quite as well for me as it has unless they were with me. Thank God for that.
Part of also why I’m so tired is that I moved. I’m no longer in Astoria but am now back in Washington Heights. The move went well – much better than I expected. We currently only have about 1/4 of our stuff in boxes. Our new apartment is filled with lovely new Ikea furniture. The apartment actually has windows (I can see the sun sometimes!). We’ve literally moved on up. But with the moving, the unpacking, and the shopping – my body, my brain, and my soul is just exhausted. And it shows. Yesterday, I preached at Trinity Long Island City. The gospel reading was Matthew 11:16-19,25-30. It is a weird little text where the context is left out of the scripture reading for the day. The epistle reading was that famous bit in Romans where Paul wrote about not doing the things he wanted to do. I preached mostly on the gospel reading but I wasn’t happy with it. I thought my presentation was good – my voice was strong, I wasn’t nervous, and I tried looking at the audience. But, while in the pulpit, I realized a few things. My transitions were weak. My main points were too buried. And what I really should have preached on, I spoke too little on and left to a snippet at the end. And halfway through the sermon, in the back of my head, I asked myself, “who am I really preaching to? Is this to them or to me?” I’m not sure the answer to that question yet. But I think the conflicted nature of my sermon is a reflection of just what’s going on in my soul right now. Everyday at CPE, I’m confronted with suffering. Everyday, I see something that shocks me. Everyday, I learn the story of a lovely person who fills me with joy. Many times, the only thing that really seems to keep me going is the presence of Christ’s wounded hands and pierced side. Holding onto that allows me to enter the next hospital room, walk to the next bed side, and confront the next image of the fact that we live in a broken world. If I didn’t have that, I really don’t think I could keep doing this.