When I was a child, I was obsessed with the show, M*A*S*H. So much so, that I wanted to become a doctor and join the Army like Hawkeye Pierce and BJ Hunnycutt. For most of the 6th and 7th grades, my wardrobe was smattered with shades of khaki, and my notebooks were tattooed with M*A*S*H quotes, and I faithfully got up early on Saturday mornings with my dad to watch reruns on FX. Suffice it to say, I was either pathetically obsessed with these mythical characters designed as a protest to the Vietnam War (despite their portraying the Korean Conflict) or I aspired to have my own opportunity to escape to somewhere foreign.
Little did I know when I was an early teen that I too would have my own foreign escape, though for me, it wouldn’t be foreign but very much domestic, and in the end, it would teach me that the place I desired to be was in a land far far away, but rather very much at home. My journey to San Francisco at times felt like a M*A*S*H-ian foreign assignment, with tents, foreign troops speaking unfamiliar languages and lobbing shells with the intention to maim and harm, and the wonderment of a new climate and culture. But while there, life stood still. Growth and progress did happen, but in the back of my head, a yearning for exactly the thing I never wanted grew – home.
The premise of M*A*S*H is that while many of the secondary characters come and go, Hawkeye Pierce stays for all eleven seasons, despite having accumulated enough points to rotate stateside. At some points in the show, he even goes a bit, shall we say, bonkers, going to the peacemaking conferences, having dreams where he reenacts scenes from his childhood, and is frequently subordinate to his superior officers when he believes the war is unjust (which in the real military, would get him court marshaled). I can relate to Hawkeye’s sense of righteous indignation, having served as a resident in a state hospital and educational system, as a single person hoping to impact change in a large machine, and more recently, having found out that the board certification process shifted around just after my residency began, directly impacting my ability to get a job (yet jobs are required to become board certified).
Yet all the while, like Hawkeye, homesickness grew like a burning hunger, and by the end of residency, with no employment or board certification on the horizon, I knew home was where I needed to be – where God needed me to be. The very last scene of M*A*S*H is perhaps the most beautiful in that Hawkeye leaves on a chopper, while BJ drives away on his motorcycle. Meanwhile, on the hillside, someone, presumably BJ, has written “Goodbye” in white rocks. Both know that they are parting ways, and finally able to nourish the gnawing hunger that has been eating away at them after many years away at war. For me, coming home felt ominous, and yet, it was exactly where I needed to be, as when I came home, I was greeted by God, and by Call.
San Francisco was a year of discernment, a year in the wilderness, a year for growth, breaking, shaping and molding. But perhaps most importantly, it was a year of going away to learn that I was supposed to be in the very place, with the very people I had been so eager to leave behind. And in returning, I would emerge from the wilderness place an entirely different person in relationship with God, and with others, only to discover that the spinning I was feeling in my call would change and evolve as well.
With all this said, I have taken a new Call, and one that doesn’t check all the boxes I desired, but does indeed check all the boxes that I believe God has for me, and I believe that is what is most important. When I began my fourth unit of CPE, I wanted more than anything to be back East, near “my people” (aka near my clergy support people, my cardiology team in NYC, and just close enough but far enough away from my family), and to be a transplant chaplain. And as God would have it, eight weeks from the end of CPE, I am none of those things. But I am something so much greater. I am a hospice and home care chaplain, and as many have testified over the past two weeks as this call has quickly developed, “this call is perfect for me.” As I view it, call is a spiritual union between God and two parties – the minister/chaplain and the people calling her/him, and over the course of the last two weeks, many people close to me, and even some who barely know me oddly enough, have affirmed the Godly perfection of this call, despite the fact that it checks almost none of the boxes I had desired initially. At first, it was part time, but then became full time after our first meeting together. It is rather suburban-rural, and a bit further way from NYC than I might love, but I have fallen madly in love with the place and people. I won’t be a transplant chaplain, but I will be working with amazing residents and families who have already touched my heart, and I have already seen and felt God through the Holy Spirit work in ways that indicate this is exactly where I am called to be for such a time as this. To fully give myself over to a place in service, just as Christ gave himself over in service to his disciples and to the world for the sake of HIS CALL.
I remember when I was a candidate for ordination, and my mentors were describing what call felt like. For some, images or stories related to a particular call would reoccur over and over again, as if God were trying to insist on the certainty and perfection of a particular place. For others, close friends, family members or mentors would affirm a person’s call over and over again until God’s still small voice would ring true and feel right. This resonated for seminary, my call in California, and now, again as a full time staff chaplain.
Clearly there will be struggles, hardships, and difficult moments – just as Hawkeye and BJ faced their own from time to time, whether physical, emotional or spiritual. But as I have always said with ferocity, if God calls, certainly He will equip me for the journey. And by His grace, He will always be there, as shepherd, guide, mentor and companion. Not only for my sake, but for the sake of all those whom I will walk alongside.
Thanks be to God for wilderness periods, for breathers in the darkness, for 3000 mile moves, and foreign assignments. But most of all, for random APC postings and email leaps into the freefall, as that is how I ended up with the next chapter of my ministry life, and I absolutely can’t wait to embark upon it. Ready or not, here I come!