"It's in the way that you use it."
I spent my last overnight at the hospital this past Saturday. For now, anyway. One unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) is coming to a close, but one must have four units in order to become a certified chaplain. So there may be more overnights to come, but for now it's done. One of my last patient visits was to see the dad of a friend of mine, and when I walked into his room, another friend, Josie, was there. Josie is one fine specimen of humanly delight: she's got a head of crazy curly hair; she's funny as hell (and has channeled that gift into stand-up comedy); she's smart, and, best of all, there is never any bullshit when you're talking with Josie. Usually I run into her at the most obvious place: the bookstore she owns in Shelburne, so it was a great surprise and such a breath of fresh air to see her at the hospital. Josie and I have lived in the same small town for a long time, so she knows me pretty well. "Well look who's here," she laughed, "the last person I ever imagined I'd see as a chaplain."
Hearing Josie joke about that -- my qualification to be one of God's employees -- actually made me breathe a sigh of relief. There are many days when I question this myself, knowing, as I do, the reality of the life I've lived these past 48 years. I'm sure Josie's not the only one shaking her curly-haired head in disbelief, and so it was nice to have the chance to talk about the big, surly elephant in the room.
The beauty of the situation is this: God is a pretty patient and humble dude (or chick or thing or whatever it is you need to call God). God manifested God-liness here in the form of a guy called Jesus and Jesus, as some of you may know, didn't drive the BMW of his day or live in a mansion or preach anything about perfection or take any kind of moral high ground. Jesus hung out with the kind of people we tend to not like to think about: the poor, the lonely; sinners. Fortunately, I have been all of those things and more, and I trust that that qualifies me to be part of the crew of maintenance workers trying to create a version of heaven here on earth. I'm OK with the truth that I've lived a less than stellar life and even OK-er with the idea that God, right about now, needs me to help out a little around here. I'm pretty sure that's why Kj helped me get sober and my kids helped me transition into a calmer life and Will preached some pretty excellent sermons in my direction and didn't turn me away when I went to talk to him about what felt like a nagging calling last year. God waited for me to get a grip on the situation and to quiet down and then I began to see the signs that pointed to the story that needed to unfold.
It kind of works that way.
The God I choose to believe in somehow never stopped believing in me, and that is a beautiful miracle if ever there has been one.
So off we go and we try to do this thing and we make it through a lot of tough stuff: divorce; accidents; death and more death; addictions, disappointments; the good ship Partnership, which so often seems to be off-keel; children who never stop needing to be fed and watered; heartbreak after heartbreak. But the thing I've discovered, you see, is that God sticks around. God is in the bushes, in the passenger seat, at the dinner table, at the bedside of the dying, in the beehive, with the kid whose car slides out of control, in the empty hours and at the carnival. God's not in any hurry and God, I can assure you, doesn't have ADD.
I heard Richard Rohr say this the other day: "How you love anything is how you love everything."
Somewhere inside of that notion has been a version of my salvation. By the grace of some exquisite and magnanimous force, I learned how to love myself even though I am a deeply-flawed person, and I figured out that I can take that tragic part of myself and extract something of worth and put it to work in the world. The truth of my own struggles allows me to sit quietly with those suffering. And it's the gift that keeps on giving. When I tend to that beautiful and divine presence in others, it makes me more aware of it in myself. And that's how we humans, on the scary human merry-go-round, nourish each other and continue on down the road, together.
As if running into Josie in the hospital once wasn't enough, we came upon each other in the hall while I was leaving early Sunday morning, where we had another good chuckle around the idea of Melissa the Chaplain. "Of course that's the chaplain I would want if I were in the hospital," she laughed, "the one who uses the word, Fuck!"
That would be me. The tattooed chaplain with the foul mouth.
Has a kind of a nice ring, doesn't it?