Thursday, December 29, 2011


My whole life, I HATED crying.  In my early years, I cried when my brothers picked on me.  I would run to my dad and he would come to my rescue.  I cried in second grade when my friends would purposely buy their lunch when I was bringing mine so they wouldn’t have to sit with me.  For several weeks of that year, I sat with the special needs kids because I was afraid to sit with anyone in my class.  (And yes, at the time I had a bowl cut, a speech impediment, and a KILLER Peewee Herman fluorescent purple jumpsuit that I wore on school picture day.)  I cried in fourth grade when some of my classmates said they wanted to start an “AJAS Club” (AJAS stood for “Against Jennifer Ann Sumner”).  In middle school, there were days when my friends would take bets on who could make me cry first in the day.  Now before you feel too bad for me, you should know I had my share of bullying others as well.  Making others cry made me feel better because it meant I wasn’t the only crier.  It was a defense mechanism and a way to feel cool, and trust me: I would do anything to take back the hurt I caused others.  Even in seminary, I cried in the middle of a lecture when my professor could remember the names of everyone in the class except mine.

My first unit of supervisory training ended last week.  This unit has been an incredible time of growth and learning.  One of the greatest things I have learned this unit is that old habits die hard and I am still learning to embrace my tears.  I thought I would outgrow my tears - and in some ways, I have - but I have learned that tears are just part of who God created me to be.  I struggle with my tears because I don’t feel like I cry at the right times.  I don’t cry when others are standing at the bedside of their sick loved one, or when I am called to a death, or when I deliver the news to a family member that their loved one was in an accident.  I certainly feel compassion and empathy towards the person, but that is not when my tears normally fall.  Instead, I cry when I am angry, when I feel powerless, or when I am passionate about something.  I cry when I feel invisible and when I feel I don’t fit in.  Part of my supervisory process is not running from my tears, but embracing them and talking through them.

Just this last week, I got angry with my supervisor over something and I started crying.  You know those tears that start in the privacy of your office and continue into the lunch line with bright fluorescent lights shining on your swollen eyes?  Yes, those.  I told him at first that I was just frustrated, but then I told him the scary truth: I was actually angry.  He calmly listened as I shared.  I was trying to shy away from my true feelings and he was inviting me into them.  After I spoke with him, he thanked me for telling him I was angry and for being authentic in my feelings.  I thought, ‘Hmm, what a weird job I have that I get thanked for telling someone I am angry with them.’

While tears used to be one of my greatest fears, now I am learning to make friends with them.  Tears are not my weakness – they are one of my strengths.  As one of my supervisors says, they are a gift from God just like all our other emotions.  I have wrestled with the projection that my supervisors are thinking, “Oh no, we made the little emotional girl chaplain cry again,” but I have learned they do not think that; even better, they don’t react negatively at all to my tears.  No handing me a tissue, no stopping the conversation, no awkward look like they’ve inflicted unnecessary pain on me.  Nope, the conversation continues like nothing even happened.  And their behavior with me is exactly how I am with patients in their tears: calm, quiet, present.  They have taught me to be present with others in their tears; now I am learning to be present with myself in my own tears.  It will continue to take time, but I am getting there.

My supervisor wrote in my evaluation, “Jenny’s perfectionism is tamed by her vulnerability. She makes it easier for people to be with her and to know her.”  I hope others have gotten to know me better.  I definitely have gotten to know myself more.  Tears and all.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Ornamental Chaos

Brian and I already have all our Christmas decorations up.  Inside, outside, front yard, back yard.  Our neighborhood puts up lots of decorations, so we really had to bring our A-game.  We have done lots of our Christmas shopping and made our Christmas cards.  We bought our tree the night of the UF/FSU football game (I needed something to do during that painful game).  We have a tradition of picking out our tree together and then decorating it with a collection of ornaments that we have gathered over the years, some that we bought and some that were gifted to us.  Our tree doesn’t look uniform nor does it follow one color scheme – it actually looks somewhat messy.  But what I love about the messiness is that each of the ornaments has a meaning.  Here are some of my faves:

An ornament from when I was born: 'Baby's First Christmas' (1984)
The Greatest Gift of All - church cantata (1990)

Made by a Michael's Arts & Crafts employee - my first job in high school (2000)

Given to me by an AHS band member (2001)

From Nuremberg Germany - a gift from my parents (2007)

Hemi's First Christmas (2008)

Olive wood Nativity scene I bought in Bethlehem (2009)

Our First Christmas - engagement ornament (2009)

An ornament I gave Brian - a deer in construction clothes (2010)
From Ten Thousand Villages - a gift from my parents (2010)

Gator Nutcracker - from Sarah (2010)

Just Married (2010)

Obviously, I could go on and on with more of my favorite ornaments!  I remember as children, we would have a tree decorating party.  We would pull out the step stool when we were too young to reach the top and put our ornaments up as we shared stories about them.  I loved putting up the Wizard of Oz and Winnie the Pooh collections of ornaments - I enjoyed hanging them all together like a family.  I also remember wondering why we put the old, worn down ornaments on the tree, especially the ones that lost their glitter, their hooks, or were broken.  They were put up because they held memories.  And now as I am married and Brian and I started our own lives together, I am eager to put up the ornaments, both old and new, that carry memories in our hearts.

I recognize that for some of you, Christmas is not a joyful time: it can be sad time, a stressful time, or an anxious time.  And each year, the holiday season looks a little different for everyone.  With all the changes that happen in my life at Christmas, I just love the chaos of the tree.  I think it’s a little bit like our lives.  As hard as we may try, life often doesn’t look neat and organized.  Life happens in the chaos.  Life happens in the busyness of shopping and traveling and cooking and caroling.  Life happens in the reading of 'The Night Before Christmas.'  And life happens as we read the story of a women named Mary and a man named Joseph who frantically looked for place to deliver - and all they could find was a manger.  But take heart that what came from that chaotic situation was Emmanuel: God With Us.  So from my chaos to yours:

I wish you a blessed Christmas season.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What I Do

I haven’t written a blog in a while.  It’s not that I don’t have things on which to reflect.  In fact, being in this supervisory process, I have to reflect theologically about almost everything I do.  Perhaps it's the fact that I do so much written and spoken reflection at work that I feel like I have no creative juices left to write blogs!  But on many occasions, I am asked what exactly I do as a supervisory education student.  So here is where I am in my process:

I still work as a chaplain on the floors, but I am with patients 15 hours a week instead of 40 hours a week.  In those 15 hours, I still carry the on-call pager and deal with traumas, codes, deaths, and other crises.  While I have been doing this work for over a year, I still find myself involved in tragic cases that surprise me in their level of difficulty.  It's crazy how much I can handle now.  At the same time, I am happy that this work has not made me emotionally numb and that I still have the ability to feel and express emotion.  For example, a couple weeks ago, I dealt with my most difficult case yet as I watched a mother and unborn child die suddenly from a tragic accident.  So, so sad.

In the other 25 hours of my week, I focus on my supervisory process.  I have weekly individual supervision just like I did when I was a resident.  I also silently observe my supervisor as he guides a group of five interns through their process.  Every other Friday, I drive to Orlando to meet with a group of supervisory students and supervisors in North and Central Florida.  We present verbatims and case studies and have our work broken down through questions, curiosities, and insights.  Sometimes I wonder what it would be like for an outside person to sit in on one of our meetings.  They would likely think we’re crazy as we analyze every thought and question.  Being in the hot seat is tough, but they are helping us prepare for when we meet committees.

I have begun working on my theology theory paper and plan to go for Candidacy in spring 2012.  If I make candidacy in the spring, I can begin supervising students in the summer without a supervisor in the room – I just have to video tape every group and individual meeting.  If I do not pass committee, I will continue growing in  my process and try again in fall 2012.  During that same time, I will also begin researching and writing my education and personality theory papers.  I have to pass all three papers (theology, education, personality) before I can go for the next step called Associate.  But that won't be for a couple years.  This process - start to finish - varies in time, but is usually in the ball park of 5 years.

So there you have it – an update on what work life is like for me these days.  Just like any kind of parish work, this career path is definitely a calling.  Friends, I’m not gonna lie: this process is tough.  It produces tears and frustrations, but also the excitement of self-discovery.  But in all the chaos and difficulty of this process, I love this work more than anything I have done before.  To put it simply, it gives me life.  It so exciting to discover the reasons I do what I do – to work on my theories, and then practice them with patients and students.  And it is an honor and a privilege to be with people in their grief and to be with students in their learning process.
So all is well right now.  Work is great.  And life is amazing.