Monday, June 28, 2010

Teaching in July

I'm using a lot of Andy's material (see previous post) to create this class that I'm scheduled to teach in July.  I see his notes on my old papers, and I hear his voice as I read his handouts.  I cry a bit, and then give thanks that he was my teacher.

I've been 'holed up' here at home for over a week now, putting together this class on Pastoral Care.  It's an Intro class, so we're covering a wide range of subjects.  Yesterday I realized I needed to get some guest speakers in;  two people have already responded "yes."  And I'm considering requiring some kind of group presentations from the class--that's a good way to learn, and it saves me from coming up with ever-more lectures and stuff on my own. 

A long way to go....

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Andy Lester

Andrew Lester died June 10, one day after my brother-in-law. I had hoped his memorial service would be held later, but I was still in South Carolina (where I needed to be) when everyone gathered to remember what he had meant to them.
Andy was my dissertation supervisor, my teacher/mentor, officiator at my wedding, and my friend. He and Judy were planning to move to North Carolina and I remember his telephone call to me, letting me know about their plans. He said he wanted me to know because "You and I have always had such a special connection, Katherine."
We had talked on several previous occasions about our 'connection,' and it had to do with us both having an existentialist orientation to life. We were both passionate about authenticity, freedom and responsibility, life/death, anxiety, isolation/community, and meaning.
He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer not long after that phone call. Their house had sold surprisingly quickly, so he and Judy had to move into an apartment while he received treatment. That saddened me; they had a beautiful home. I don't know exactly how long it was from when he was diagnosed to when he died; a year, or perhaps a bit longer.
I remember once in a seminar class, he had asked us to read an article about "master narratives." All of my colleagues critiqued the article, saying that from their postmodern perspective master narratives didn't exist; our identities are created anew each day through social construction. I saw their point, but I spoke up in disagreement because as I had read the article I knew my own 'master narrative.'
"Tell us, Katherine," Andy said.
"Uh, oh, well...," I stammered. My intention had not been to tell that story -- Andy surprised me in so many ways through the years, inviting me, in one way or another, to honor the Authentic Katherine.
I was maybe 19 years old and on break from college. My parents lived in Houston then. On this particular evening, my mother had already gone to bed leaving me alone with my father. I was sitting in a chair in the living room reading a book, I think. He was only slightly drunk and he came over and sat on the couch and said, "So, Katy, where is your life going?"

Where is my life going... Deep anxiety flooded through me. I froze and could only manage to slightly shrug my shoulders in response. He looked away and eventually said, "Yeah. I know. I was never captain of my own ship either."

As the years went on, that little exchange with my father served as a major gift and, indeed, as a 'master narrative' for me. It taught me in the most powerful way that I MUST become the 'captain of my own ship.' My God, I couldn't go through life and end up, at 60, thinking I'd never acted as agent of my own life! No! No! No!
As I finished that story I looked at Andy, and OH!, I'll never forget his face. He was smiling at me and nodding his head in affirmation. My eyes fill with tears now, thinking of it. He was so proud of me. That's what I read into his smile and his nod: Oh dear God, this man I love and respect so much is proud of me! He saw me becoming, and in some ways as already, the captain of my own ship.
It meant the world.
When I asked him to officiate at my wedding I was pretty sure he would say Yes, and he did. But he surprised me with a question also: Katherine, I can only do this if you've thought through the implications for justice. I think I responded with something like "yes of course," and he said 'great' and quickly went on to some nuts-and-bolts questions. He knew that the question would linger in my mind. In what ways, in the excitement of falling in love and planning a wedding, would I tend to give my power away?--that's what he wanted me to think through, I'm sure, because he knew that ongoing sub-story of mine: letting my God-given empowerment dissipate. It remains a hugely important question for me to keep in mind.
Andy was someone I felt the freedom to always be myself around, and at the same time, not. I know I had him on a pedastal as this "father-figure extraordinaire." I wish I could've related to him as an equal more often than I did. He invited that in so many ways.
Well, it's a small regret, really. The main thing is how utterly grateful I am, and will always be, that Andy Lester was part of my life. Being in his presence was sheer gift because, as his obituary said, he was a man who provided "unconditional love." What response can anyone have to that except utter gratitude?
I have always thought that no human being could provide 'unconditional love,' and I've always asked my clients/parishioners to think about that more deeply when they make such a declaration. But when I read that in Andy's obituary, written by his family members I'm sure, I knew it was an accurate statement, arising, I believe, from his amazing commitment to Jesus Christ and his dedication to increasing in spiritual maturity. Andy Lester was a man who walked the earth with a deep assurance in his soul that God was with him--guiding, healing, sustaining, reconciling, and liberating him. It's that kind of assurance that gives us the freedom to love others so well.
Two of my Ph.D. colleagues contacted me upon learning of Andy's death. Duane called me that morning to make sure I'd heard the news, then he emailed me. His email ended with "We stand on the shoulders of a giant." Oh, how true. Andy's work is hugely respected in the field of pastoral counseling and pastoral theology. He broke new ground in narrative theory and hope, and an incredible pastoral theology of anger. Not to mention his books on marriage and on children. It was a beautiful reminder to me, that we his students stand on Andy's giant shoulders as pastoral theologians, counselors, and caregivers. A feeling for me of both humility and celebration.
And Linda's email brought tears to me eyes. She commented on how I had been in her thoughts since the moment she learned he was on hospice. She wrote of the "closeness and significance" of my relationship with him and her certainty that his death would "leave a hole" in my heart. You're right, Linda. So right. And for all of us in our own ways... I'm thinking now of another friend and student of Andy's, M., who mentioned a couple of times to me how she wished one of us could speak to Andy and learn from his wisdom about this process of dying. I think we all assume that this process of letting go was something he experienced with sadness, but grace and a loved-filled peace as well.
The last time I saw Andy and Judy was about 3 weeks before he died. They had come again to one of the "Sacred Conversations" gatherings at my church. He was very pale, and I knew he had recently had to increase his pain medication. As they left, we embraced and I'm pretty sure I said, "I love you." Even if I didn't actually say that out loud, I know he knew it.
He's with God now.
But, of course, he always was.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Bike Racing Today

David's riding in a bike race this morning. He got up at 5:30 to get to Italy, Texas in time for the pancake breakfast. His text at 7:15 said he had pancakes with a 69-year-old man who rides this race every year. Encouraging!

I'm a tad worried, but I know he should be fine. He rides over 70 miles on other blistering hot days without a problem, so this 67-mile race shouldn't be hard.

He'll come home tired, but feeling good about himself, I'm sure. And who wouldn't be proud of an accomplishment like that? I think it's amazing.

Tomorrow's Father's Day, of course. I know the girls will be here; not sure about Young Man with Integrity -- he and his family are just now driving back from a two-week vacation to Montana, so they might not be up for it. Hope so, though. It would be great if all of us together could celebrate David!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Journey Begins

My brother-in-law of 30 years died June 9. I officiated at his memorial service last week in South Carolina -- it was an informal service with lots of storytelling about Stan and expressions of what he meant to us. I shared a beautiful memory I have of him --
When my mother was dying in 1994, I, along with my sister and brother, were keeping vigil at the hospital where she lay in a coma. Exhausted, I went back to my sister's house each evening to regain a little strength for the next day's waiting. Part of my time each evening was to clean my contact lenses which ended up dirty with salt from my tears during the day, and I couldn't wear my glasses because they were broken. I returned home one evening and Stan had repaired my glasses for me. A small act of kindness, but one that has stayed with me all these years. It meant so much because I was too spent to do anything for myself, and to come back and find my glasses waiting for me meant that Stan had thought about me during the day and had some compassion for how my eyes were hurting each evening. It was a gift that carried tremendous meaning for me.
The story of Stan's death is not a pretty one. Despite hospice care, he suffered greatly, I think. Still, he died knowing that his family members--Susan, my sister, and Ashley and Keith, his daughter and son--were there, and they loved him greatly.

Thirty years is a long time to have someone be part of the family; I haven't yet really processed what it will be like for me to visit their home and Stan not be there to greet and welcome me. And that's just me. Stan was always there for my sister, her confidant and best friend. As she herself said on the day after the memorial service, "So now my journey begins." Poignant words. Her journey of grief and tears and anguished adjustment now begin. It is a journey of creating a new identity for herself, even though in a very important sense Stan will remain with her. She'll have a different relationship with him now, but no relationship ever really dies, for we are forever changed by loving others. They become part of who we are.

It was truly wrenching for me to leave Susan and Ashley and Keith; I very much wanted to stay and feel like I was helping them somehow. But all of us knew that these journeys of grief must be taken alone. (Not that other people don't help; they do. It can help tremendously to be in the company of one who cares and loves.) But the internal work of grief is just that -- a work of inner transformation that each of us must undertake as individuals-in-relationship.

I know they'll be fine; they are fine. And I know that it's through the pain that true joy can be made known. Christ shows us that. Still, part of me wishes they didn't have to go through any pain at all. I'm praying that even in the midst of heartache they'll be able to sense God's loving and gracious presence with them, sustaining and healing them.

Yes. May it be so.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Twenty Questions

1. When you looked at yourself in the mirror today, what was the first thing you thought? I was in such a hurry to get ready this morning that I was just thinking "OK, hair done. OK, makeup on." Didn't think much about anything except getting the job done so that I could get to church!

2. Do you miss anyone right now?
I do. I miss my sister and her family -- my brother-in-law is on hospice and I'm concerned about him and my sister, niece and nephew. They are really on my heart.
There's a dear friend I really miss; she's too busy these days to really get together. Grieves my heart, to tell the truth.
I miss my friend Wendy who moved to Missouri.
Funny (strange) thing...I woke up from a dream one night last week in which I was walking down the hall of our house screaming: "Mamma!" Very disturbing dream. After 16 years of being without her, I still miss my mother.

3. If you could move anywhere else, would you?
I'd move to a cooler, prettier place. It's only June and already we're way above 100 degrees here in north Texas. I hate it.

4. If you could choose, what would your last meal be?
Perfectly prepared chicken-'n-dumplings. (That means fluffy dumplings.)

5. What famous person, dead or alive, would you want to have lunch with?
I think I'd enjoy lunch with Henri Nouwen, talking about his life, and, I have a suspicion, talking about mine as well. He'd ask.

6. What was the last book you read?
Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault

7. What was the last movie you watched?
In the theater, Robin Hood.
Via Netflix, As It Is in Heaven (great movie!)

8. What was the last song you heard?
It was something on my I-Phone--Joan Baez, I think. I listened to it on the plane ride home yesterday.

9. What is your dream vacation?
Someplace cool with a wonderful view of the mountains or the ocean. For two weeks--time to really relax!

10. What is the next trip you will take?
We're driving to Taos, NM, at the end of July. I've rented a house near the town square for three nights. Looking forward to that!

11. Did you ever go to camp?
No, I never did. I hear folks talk about the truly formative experiences they've had at Youth Camp, but I can't resonate with that. I do remember going camping once or twice with my grandparents. My grandfather had a motor boat, so we'd go on area lakes.

12. Have you ever been in love?
Yes, I have. Still am. We've been married over six years now. At the moment, we're watching the 5th game of the Stanley Cup together.

13. What do you want to know about the future?
Hmmm, gosh. I really can't think of anything. Guess the present is OK, and I do have a pretty good level of trust, I think.

14. Where is your best friend?
"Best friend" isn't a phrase I use. I have several "soul friends." They're in Fort Worth, Dallas, Princeton NJ, Maryville MO...

15. How is your best friend?
They're all doing great.

16. Who is the biggest gossiper you know?
I know some folks who gossip, but I certainly wouldn't name them here!!

17. What does your last text message say?
"Got it. See you then. Love." That's from my husband after I sent him my arrival time and gate information yesterday.

18. What are 3 things you've always wanted to do, that you still plan to accomplish?
I'm at a point in my life when the "big things" have all been done. We'll see what the future brings.

19. What is one thing you learned from your parents?
I learned to dig deep and find the courage to face unpleasant things about myself. (They did the opposite, so this is a negative learning.)

20. What is one thing you hope to teach to your own children?
I hope my stepchildren and granddaughter will learn something about being truly authentic from me.

I got these from Seeking Authentic Voice, and I think the rules are that if you copy these from me and answer them on your blog you are supposed to let me off I go to let Terri know...

Compassion is the Key to Bridging Opposites

We had another different worship experience this morning. I used the Widow of Nain story, with the idea (that I read somewhere) about the story being of two processions meeting each other. One procession is about death -- the widow leading the procession with her dead son's bier, and the other with Jesus leading a procession into Nain. He'd been doing a few miracles in the area, so there was a large crowd following him.

Two processions on a collision course -- what will happen when Life meets Death? The focus of the sermon was on Compassion as the bridge between life and death.

Our musicians were so incredible...through them I was really able to worship, even while being "responsible" for worship myself. I'm so grateful to them, and for them. We've come a long way with music that really fits the theme and provides such a beautiful, worshipful experience.

I decorated the worship space with contrasting colors -- yellow (Jesus and Life) and dark blue (the Widow and Nain and Death). That was meaningful for me, creating a space that supported the sermon and theme for the morning.

Lynn provided homemade bread for communion, and she gathered the folks together to illustrate the story as Scripture was read. Thanks, Lynn.

I don't know how many were present. 70, perhaps, including the children.

Unfortunately our air conditioning in that space is on the blink, so it was a bit uncomfortable. It probably mattered to me more than anyone! I pretty much melt in the heat!

At the book study after worship, Cole suggested having some discussion questions that fit the theme each Sunday...we can provide these questions at the Table Fellowship that always follows the service. Loved that idea!