When Sarah Bareilles’ song, “Brave” came out this past summer, it was my jam. The strains of “Everybody’s been there/Everybody’s been stared down by the enemy/Fallen for the fear/And done some disappearing/Bow down to the mighty/Don’t run, just stop holding your tongue…” could be heard all the way down 295 each and every morning and evening as I drove to and from my CPE internship in Philadelphia. At that point in the summer, a few months into my first CPE unit, and a few weeks from the end, Bareilles’ lyrics spoke to my own fear, timidity, and perhaps, my courage in disguise.
Courage and bravery are attributes that are ordinarily reserved for a special breed. For me, children fighting cancer, the troops fighting valiantly for anything overseas, people who are willing to stand for what they truly believe in – what they feel deep down in their bones. These are the brave, the courageous. It definitely isn’t me. Because I just am by the grace of God, not because I have done anything particularly special. Certainly not because I have done anything extraordinary.
This week, a professor, someone I have never had a class with, but who frequently sits behind me, and who always gives me her daily [INSERT PROFESSOR NAME HERE] chapel hug during the “peace of Christ” moment, called me brave and courageous. Mid-hug. And not just any hug, mind you, a tight-grasped, bear hug. What was most stunning was not the hug. Obviously, the hug was expected. It happens every day, same time, same place. As predictable and comforting as…say…lunch, except perhaps more heart-warming than, stomach-warming. But what she said to me in the middle of this predictable embrace was certainly NOT expected. In CPE, I experienced firsthand the importance of simply being present for people more often than the importance of my words as a chaplain and pastoral caregiver. More often than not, my words didn’t matter, and frequently, as a student chaplain, I felt that they were awkward and that they displaced the grief and suffering of the patient I was visiting. (In reality, this is likely not true, but perceptions are often warped, I know, and especially this is true as a student.) I found that patients often appreciated a hand held in compassionate prayer over a word offered in advice, or even a moment shared in grieving silence. In the silence, burdens could be transferred from patient to chaplain in a sign of true Christian community, compassion and grace, tears shed, love shown. Sacred moments exchanged.
This week, my professor did exactly this for me, in such a public place, and yet it was just as sacred in some ways, as she gave me a gift. The gift of grace, the gift of courage, and most importantly in that moment, the gift of being seen. She acknowledged that my seminary journey has been filled with what might amount to an emotional and physical Ultramarathon, and at times, I get extremely discouraged by the whole thing. But what she saw was courage and strength – the way I seemed to be handling it was with grace (anger, sadness, frustration, joy, sorrow, and all – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross would be so proud).
When I embarked on this seminary journey, I never envisioned that I would have three invasive heart procedures and eventually, be pacemaker dependent (as of 2/20), but as it all turns out, when God pursued me, the path He and I began to walk together no longer became mine to choose. I am truly Reformed (and therefore a Calvinist…) in that I believe that bad stuff happens to truly wonderful people, and that none of what has happened in the last three years is God’s doing, but in the end, it has given me more courage, has made me stronger in my faith, and as it turns out, has brought me in a strangely roundabout way, to a better understanding of myself, my call, and who I see God to be.
My professor did something amazing for me this week, especially given what is coming up in 4 days, 22 hours, 52 minutes, 32 seconds…31…You get the idea. During CPE, I felt strong. I felt courageous. My last procedure behind me, I felt invincible, and with the words of Sarah Bareilles in my lungs, anything felt possible. But in the last few months, the unknown has seemed to devour my courage, and while this is understandable, I want the courageous me back! The unknown is definitely a scary place, but faith allows for that place to be a heck of a lot less frightening, as the Calvinist in me says that God has something incredible planned for that unknown place, and I just don’t know what’s out there yet. I’m not supposed to know what God has planned for the future, including what’s planned for my health, but God’s got some good stuff in store, and I have courage and faith in that fact.
And I think, thanks to my professor, I’ve got my courage back! So thanks, Dr [INSERT PROFESSOR NAME HERE…] for seeing the strength inside of me, and encouraging me to move beyond the fear. Sometimes, it takes a push and a shove to climb over that wall.