I used to be a runner, field hockey and lacrosse goalie, a cyclist, and a dancer. In the deepest and darkest throws of my illness, I couldn’t do any of those things anymore, and at the very beginning, I used to dream these vivid, almost lifelike dreams about the things and activities I was craving most to do. In one dream, I could run along the mill river, one of my favorite places to run in college. In this dream, I would run without limitation, and likely, even better than I could ever run in real life – without pain in my muscles or joints, without spasm or tightness in my airways and lungs, and no sharp stabbing tightness over my heart. In my dreams, I could run completely without fear, feeling the cool Western Massachusetts air fill my lungs, the smooth stones against my shoes, and mud splatter against my calves. In the last few months, in the really bad moments of my illness, my dreams weren’t nearly as carefree – my lungs felt choked and filled with spasm, my chest hurt, my muscles seized and joints ached.
Only in my dreams could I dance, run, and do the very things I loved, and even in the end, I couldn’t do these things.
But how life has changed, with a 2 inch scar. But lets make things very clear. I am NOT anything but Liz. I am Liz.
Not a millennial, not a pacemaker patient, not a seminarian, not a chaplain, not an ordination candidate, not a ______, not. Not. NOT.
A while back, someone asked me to demonstrate my arrhythmia – to illustrate for a table full of people what it was like. Forget feeling mortified, forget feeling embarrassed (not for myself, but for them…), forget feeling completely angry. I remembered that just because people go to seminary, doesn’t mean they are comfortable with illness, nor does it mean that they are equipped to be pastoral or sensitive to the needs of others. I wanted to tell them that it felt like losing your dignity, your ability to breathe, to see, to think clearly, to get normal day to day things done, and to feel like a normal human being.
But rather than honor them with a dignified response, I said, I don’t fit in a box. I don’t choose to be identified by what has happened to me. I would rather be called by the name I was given at birth. What I’ve been through colors the way I look at the world – both theologically, socially, culturally, and definitely informs how I think about each and every day. Yet, I don’t choose to think about it. The fact that I’m blogging about it does not mean that I am thinking about it. What it means is that I’m recognizing and acknowledging a change, and a shift from being sick to being well, from being only sick to getting to explore what life is like, as Liz, and my life with others in community.
Being sick is self-absorbing; and to some extent, I’ll be sick for the rest of my life. Yet, I’m the best I’m ever going to get! So I want to be identified as well, as someone in their 20s, as vibrant, as lively, as adventurous. Not as someone who has spent the last eight years in and out of the hospital. See me for the sum total of my successes and victories, not the account of my bumps, bruises and scars.
I am not my vocation, I am not my seminary or undergraduate degrees, I am not my hobbies, I am not my relationships with others. I am a sum total of my experiences, but most importantly, I am my relationship with God, who saw it fit to create me, to reconcile me to Christ, and to guide me through the Holy Spirit.
Think back. Think back to all the times you have been rejected, or characterized based on a singular quality. Has that rejection been entirely correct? Rejection is never entirely fair, nor is it always right, but if it has been based on one singular quality, is it fair that you were judged or put into a box because of it? Probably not. When I was looking for a field education placement for my senior year of seminary, I had a pretty difficult time. I looked, and looked and looked, and looked again. More than 10 churches interviewed me, or considered me, and once they heard that I was in the middle of a health issue, and had a food allergy, they pretty much said, “thanks, but we’re not interested.” Or better yet, “We don’t think you’re a good match for what we are looking for in our church.” (And we say that pastors are pastoral by nature…) By Christmas, I had one site all but lined up, and then shortly after New Year’s, on the day of my very first heart surgery, my perhaps-supervisor emailed me (yes, emailed. For those of you who DON’T think social media and the internet is destroying human relationships, perhaps you might reconsider now?) to tell me that suddenly the position no longer existed. All of a sudden, my would-be field ed was gone and out of reach; rejection hurts, but it hurts even more when you find out that it was offered to someone else who didn’t have any health issues or limitations about a month later. But eventually, I found a pastor and supervisor who didn’t see the need for me to prove myself, for me to justify my ability to complete my placement, and who was just satisfied with me as I am. He was ok with what I had to offer, was willing to meet me where I was, and work with what I could bring to the table in ministry. Praise God for true and genuine pastors, who prayerfully consider and give a Called individual a chance.
Reality and rejection really hurts, and it especially hurts when others who barely know you insist upon placing you in a particular box or category. Yes, I have a food allergy. Yes, I have a pacemaker. Yes, I am a future RCA minister of the Word and Sacrament, and Yes, I am a chaplain. I am a woman, a twenty-something, a ginger, and a former collegiate athlete. But I am also a heck of a lot of other things that DON’T define who I am, and neither do any of these things. These things all COLLECTIVELY make up the footprints behind me, but don’t make up the footprints yet to be made in front of me, the experiences yet to be had, and my ability to make them.
Call me Liz. Because a lot lies behind my name. Where I have walked, the lives of those who have touched me, who I have touched, my hopes, dreams, and where I desire to go in the many, many years to come. But to place me in a box or category will only stifle that.