Saturday, July 30, 2011

Grace for Perfectionists

Today I wondered, ‘What does ‘perfectionism’ mean exactly?’  I looked up the definition of the word ‘perfectionism’ and learned that there are actually two types.  In a psychological sense, it is a belief that perfection can and should be obtained.  In a pathological sense, it is a belief that any work produced that is less than perfect is unacceptable.  I think both forms of perfectionism permeate in our society: the psychological perfection has spread like wildfire through the media, Hollywood, and magazines, always making the reader or viewer feel broken and imperfect, but offering a solution to how that person can improve.  New fashions, new diets, new plastic surgeries.  The pathological sense comes out in TV shows like Cake Boss when Buddy puts the finishing touches on his perfect cake creation; or on Dance Moms as instructor Abby Lee yells at her young students for not dancing perfectlyI know these are extreme examples, but my point is that perfectionism can come out in many facets and cause harm if we’re not careful.

I will admit I can be a perfectionist sometimes (the pathological type, not the psychological).  In school, I would proofread a paper numerous times to make sure each comma was in its proper place…I would study every Greek and Hebrew word until I could recite them in my sleep…I would focus on the frustration of the questions I got wrong instead of rejoicing in the questions I got right.  Some of you may be reading this and thinking, “Get a life, Jenny,” but it feels like it is part of my DNA.  As I have written in prior blog posts, chaplaincy has taught me to break free of some of those tendencies, to be more spontaneous and in-the-moment, to embrace the messiness, and to give myself grace when I felt like I was failing as a chaplain.

This came out particularly in the last few weeks, which have been crazy for me.  Work was busy, full of meetings and end-of-unit assignments.  On my weekend off, I attended a friend’s wedding in Miami and on the drive to the wedding, found out my granddad died.  Therefore, I turned right around from the wedding to head to his funeral in Montgomery, Alabama.  I then turned around from his funeral, worked for 3 days, and then flew to St. Louis, Missouri for a family reunion with the other side of my family.  I came home from that trip exhausted from fun and activity and went right back to work.  I couldn’t find myself getting into any routine at work.  My visits felt casual and surface level, and no matter who I was talking to, my mind felt like it was somewhere else.  I became frustrated with myself and found myself close to tears on several occasions that day.  I like to keep my ducks in a row, and I felt like I had left some ducks quacking in Miami, Montgomery, and St. Louis.

As I was trying to piece together my thoughts for this blog, I received an email from my seminary friend, Melissa.  She, along with many other pastors (or so their facebook statuses have told me), are working on their sermons for Sunday, many of them using the text where Jacob struggles with God at Peniel.   She was asking if she could use me as sermon illustration with my calling to chaplaincy coming through fear and wrestling with God.  She wrote a paragraph about my struggle with God that brought me from fear to excitement about this new call in my life.  She states, “Because God blessed her, she had to do something about it.”  (Of course I emailed Melissa and asked if I could use her illustration in my blog).  Her words made me smile.

It was a beautiful moment of God reminding me that we do not go this journey alone.  We are called to be in relationship and to empower one another when we doubt ourselves.  I talk with patients about this all the time – finding support through friends, family and/or a church community.  I guess I needed to take a dose of my own medicine.  Melissa helped me to remember that we give God whatever we can and God will work through it to make something incredible.  And I am reminded that in our humanness, we can never be perfect.  No matter what reality shows, magazines, or advertisements try to tell us.  By our human nature, we will always fall short…we will always miss commas and misspell words…we will always lose faith in ourselves from time to time.  And that is why grace is such a beautiful thing.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Next Season

About a month ago, we had 11 new summer interns join our department to begin their journey through a summer intensive program.  I love teaching new students the ins and outs of the hospital – it is amazing to see how quickly they can learn.  There were lots of eager hearts ready to jump right in; however, even the most excited and driven interns still carried some anxiety about the unknown and their capacity to handle difficult situations.  I think that is the beauty and reality of CPE.  I shared with a few of them about my first week of my CPE internship in 2009: how I got physically sick, fainted twice, and cried in bathroom stalls out of fear of what I was going to see.  I couldn’t walk into the room of someone who was dead or even dying.  My heart jumped every time I saw a linen cart wheel by because the covering on it made me think there was a dead body inside.  When they heard these stories, they were shocked because they felt like I was able to be a calm, non-anxious presence for patients and families in all kinds of situations.  I reminded them that it takes patience and hard work, but that they, too, will be able to handle things that they never thought they would be able to handle.

I began this blog about 10 months ago as I journeyed through an unexpected year of a CPE residency.  I say ‘unexpected’ because most of you know I was planning to become a pastor in a church, not a chaplain in a hospital.  I felt God tugging me to face my fears of hospital ministry, and now 10 months later, it seems odd to think of myself as doing anything but chaplaincy.  I feel like this is what I was supposed to be doing all along, but just didn’t know that when I started.  I am an ‘ESTJ’ on the Myers-Briggs scale, therefore the high functioning ‘J’ in me makes *planning* a natural tendency of mine. (if you don’t know to which test I’m referring, you can test yourself for free at  Throughout this year, I feel I learned to let go of some of the planning and found myself being carried into a whole new field of work.  I won’t lie to you, I still love to plan, but this residency has taught me to embrace a little more of the spontaneity that comes with life.

This year has taught me more than I ever could have imagined.  I have learned about patients: how isolated they can feel as they journey through sickness and how unexpected tragedies can change an entire family in a mere second.  I have learned about protocol and procedures: Florida Statutes, the difficulty of ethics, and interdisciplinary approaches to healthcare.  I have learned to be a chaplain not only for patients, but also for staff.  I have traveled to many seminars and learned about a variety of topics: palliative care for children, the world of the traumatized, the road of professional chaplaincy and the process towards becoming a board certified chaplain.

Some of you may have seen my announcement on facebook about beginning the CPE supervisory process.  The supervisors with whom I have been in conversation have said this process feels like the equivalent of working towards a PhD.  This process takes several years and involves looking at yourself and exploring your ability to be an educator, observing and leading groups while meeting weekly with a supervisor, writing and defending several theory papers, and going in front of numerous committees who vote you through each step.  Some have asked me why I would want to put myself through all of that.  My answer is simple: I feel called to do this.  My heart comes alive in this work and I believe I am ready to take on the challenge.  I met for my first consultation in Orlando a few weeks ago and my next step will take place in Greenville, SC at the end of September.  I plan to continue blogging through this next season of my life.

In closing, I want to share a quick story.  In my 7th grade literature class, each student had to memorize a ton of poetry and recite it to our teacher.  I thought it was stupid and pointless at the time (as was everything else in my 'tween worldview). But still today, my brother and I crack ourselves up at our continued ability to quote poetry that we learned over 10 years ago.  Cliché as it may be, out of all the poetry, I must say that Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’ comes to mind more than anything as I begin this new season of my life.  So I will now leave you with his words…

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.