Friday, January 13, 2012

An early Valentine to my co-workers

As I was picking up a few things at the grocery store the other day, I noted that the seasonal aisle was stocked with Valentine’s candy. We’ve just finished putting away the last of the Christmas decorations, and already it’s time to start thinking about the next holiday. Normally, I'd be bugged at having to encounter the next holiday so soon, but I needed an idea for our parish newsletter, and seeing the Valentine's stuff inspired me, so this this time it suits me just fine.

When you think of it, it’s pretty wonderful that we have a holiday that celebrates love. People may argue that it’s a holiday made up by greeting card companies in order to increase their profits, and that there is an overemphasis on romantic love. But it’s hard to argue that it’s a bad idea to think of all the people we love and let them know how special they are to us!

Having said that, I’d like to take this opportunity to share my appreciation for the people I work with and for, because they don’t often enough hear how important they are—to me and to the parish. As I've mentioned before, I have decided that this will be my last year working at St. Mary and before I go, I want to say what a blessing it has been to work there.

The St. Mary staff  is very much like a family to me. That means, of course, that we don’t all agree all the time and sometimes there is tension. But we are always here for each other, and the respect and care we have for each other is deep. It maybe should go without saying that a parish staff should be that way, but when there's so much going on, and we all have different responsibilities and things to accomplish, it wouldn’t be a surprise if egos got in the way on a regular basis. Fortunately, that’s a rare occurrence!

Being separated by different buildings and having different schedules sometimes makes collaboration and communication difficult. However, every time I seek help or advice from any member of staff, my request is heeded and my needs quickly met. Being on a parish staff means sharing ideas quite often, and it’s good to know that my thoughts will be heard and respected—if not necessarily accepted. It’s also truly a pleasure to hear the ideas of the other members of the staff. There is such a wealth of knowledge and experience, and every time I’ve needed help coming up with a good way to solve a problem or address a situation, someone has come forward with an idea I know I wouldn’t have found on my own.

I can’t begin to say how much I admire each and every person who works (and has worked) at St. Mary with me. And it would take far too long for me to write all the great things about each person on the staff. But I do want it known that from our custodians to our administrative staff, to our school staff, to our pastoral staff, St. Mary Parish is blessed to be served by a remarkable team. We don’t always see it ourselves, and sometimes worry that we don’t do enough. But that alone—given all that is done week in and week out, year in and year out—speaks to the quality of care this parish receives.

So--Fr. Jim, Deacon Ed, Deacon Jeff, Deacon Tom, Sr. Chris, Carmen, Mary, Jean, Julia, Kelley, Anne, Monica, Judy, Jose, Mark & Shelby, Jim, Courtenay, and all the catechists, classroom aides and MACS teachers—thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the many, many ways you’ve made my time working here so fulfilling. I will miss being in this place and with all of you all the time, but I’m certain that we haven’t seen the last of each other!  ---Love, Jeannine

Thursday, September 1, 2011

And all manner of things shall be well. . .

It has been a tough week--made a little bit tougher when I compare it to last week, when somehow I was able to accomplish every thing, large and small, that was on my agenda.  This week I just feel like my wheels have been spinning non-stop, and so I really haven't been in the mind-set to blog about good things.

But as I was talking to a friend who is having a tougher week than I, this quote from Julian of Norwich came to mind:  "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."  And I recalled this excellent reflection that I found when doing research for my capstone project, and had the good sense to bookmark.  So having nothing of my own to share, I thought I'd at least share the link to this thing of beauty. (I hope this is okay copyright-wise.  If anyone tells me otherwise, I will remove the post.)


The Spirituality of Abundance

Monday, August 29, 2011

To know is to be called.

Those were somewhat heady words to hear when I was a junior in college and had just a) returned from a mission trip to inner city Washington, D.C. to work in a soup kitchen/homeless shelter & to protest on the steps of the Pentagon and b) watched with a group the movie “The Day After”, which depicts the immediate aftermath of the explosion of a nuclear bomb in California.  (The first lyric in my profile is truly true!)  I was in a strange state of mind, having had such dramatic new experiences, and having had my eyes opened-seemingly for the first time-to so much that is unsettling.  It was a bit too much for my sheltered brain to take in, and I went to talk to my professor, friend and mentor, Bob, who had introduced me to pretty much all of this. As I recall I had a bit of a breakdown, and asked him what in the world I was supposed to do with all that I had just experienced.  And these were the words he said—“To know is to be called”.

Now, what my poor silly brain wanted to hear was, “Ah, don’t worry, Jeannine.  Jesus said the poor would always be with us, and they will.  But they won’t actually be close enough to you that you’ll have to really do anything about them.  Other people who are more qualified (somehow) will take care of that. And if you do want to do anything, you certainly can—when it suits you.  And as for nuclear war, well, no one wants that, and our leaders will come to their senses and make sure that never happens, so don’t fret.”  Hmmm.  Not my brain’s lucky day that day!

I tell this story because yesterday was Bob’s birthday, and I had the good fortune to be in Dubuque and to spend a bit of time with him.  And thinking about it afterward, it occurred to me that he really deserves to have a blog post dedicated to him, because he has been more than a bit influential in my life. And if I think about that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, I’m going to eventually come to think of Bob.  

Bob and  I met when we both began academic careers at Loras—he as a teacher, I as a student.  As the only freshman in his first class, I was a bit overwhelmed and approached him asking if I could drop the class.Being in his class was like being spoken to in a different language.  Bob is a pretty accomplished scripture scholar, and I had never really spent much time between the covers of a Bible.  (That sounds wrong, but I kind of like the imagery—kind of Leonard Cohen-ish so it’s staying).  Bob just laughed, and told me that no one else in the class probably understood either, but maybe I should stick around and see if it got any easier.  I love a challenge, so I did, and it did.  What really sold me, though, was the genuine thrill he demonstrated whenever someone in the class had one of those “Aha!” moments. He’s kind of the ultimate teacher.

Bob’s easy manner and approachability served me in good stead throughout my college career when I would run into road blocks in my studies.  It didn’t matter if it was one of his classes, or one of my English classes--I started out as an English major, (which would have turned out to be only slightly less lucrative than a Parish Ministry major)—if Bob was around, he was willing to help.  When I started in a ministry position years later, all I had to do was call Bob and an inservice for catechists was a done deal.  When I felt a bit rudderless in my job, it was Bob who encouraged me to enroll in a master’s degree program at Loras, and took me on as an advisee. And when I needed a project to complete my master’s degree, Bob patiently listened to ideas he didn’t quite get, and allowed me to work through it at a pace that fit into my life.

And maybe it was a combination of things—me being na├»ve and more often than not in a state of desperation, besides having a bit of genius worship, and him just loving being able to teach—but ultimately, a comfort level was reached that could only be described (to my way of thinking) as friendship.  And friendship does so many things.  It accepts, but also challenges.  It affirms, but also questions.  It leads—hopefully in good ways—and follows—again, hopefully in good ways.  This has been my experience of friendship with Bob over nearly 3 decades.  Mostly, Bob has done the leading, and that’s certainly the way I prefer it—but more important, he’s been a huge support behind my efforts to figure out what I really needed to accomplish.

But back to the being called thing.  In my experience, it’s a bit harder to discern than I figured it would be.  I find myself at a bit of a crossroads right now, and have chosen to move out of my current position as a DRE.  If to know is to be called, here is what I feel I know:  I’m not as well suited for this work as I ought to be.  My enthusiasm for the work is sorely lacking, and my creative energies are sadly depleted.  Very specifically, I serve a largely Hispanic population, but speak precious little Spanish.  That could possibly be overcome, but overwhelmingly, I feel called---away.  And that’s odd.  I don’t know what—if anything—I’m being called to, but very strongly I feel called away from what I’m doing now.  And that’s liberating, but also incredibly frightening.  

My brain is back to wanting comforting words gently administered telling me that all will be well, and not to fret.  Something tells me that my brain’s lucky day is a way off—but somehow I believe that things will work out.  That doesn’t so much show up in “to know is to be called”, but I’m beginning to realize that knowing may not entirely precede calling.  So stay tuned.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

In the beginning. . .

Once upon a time, a couple of years ago, I had to do a project to complete my master’s degree in ministry.  The project was mine to come up with, develop and implement, and at first I had a lot of ideas that I played around with, but I kept coming back to wanting to do something with Stewardship and Sacraments.  When I began considering ideas, I really wanted to do something around Epiphany, because both stewardship and sacrament have much to do with receiving gifts, and well, so does Epiphany, so I figured I could really highlight that theme and do some great things with it.  In anticipation of that, I created this blog to flush out some ideas, and perhaps get some feedback in the comments section. 

The title came from the notion that we’ve all received gifts we weren’t sure what to do with, and so we put them aside in hopes of finding an opportunity to give them away to someone else.  As it happens, grace is a gift that we sometimes don’t know what to do with—so we put it aside.  But unlike other gifts, it’s a bit harder to pass on, unless we find a value for it ourselves.  And unlike other gifts that generally come at appointed times—birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, etc.—grace is given non-stop in a steady stream from the moment of our baptism (although I suspect God doesn’t wait until we decide to put an official start date on the grace-giving!). So the idea was to try to make grace more easily recognizable and understandable so we can more readily pass it on.  But I’m a horrible procrastinator (maybe I need to find some lyrics to indicate that in my profile—later) and before I knew it, Epiphany was going to be here too soon to do a decent project, so I had to take my idea in a slightly different.  Thus, the blog was created, and then abandoned.  But I’ve always thought about getting back to it—just to see if I can do it. 
(For the record, I did complete the project, and receive my master’s degree.)

While I was working on my project, it was fairly easy to be positive and hopeful about everything in my life—because I was always focusing on the good (because, frankly, I needed examples and object lessons for my project!).  But fast forward a couple of years, and with that focus no longer in front of me, I find that I am far too easily discouraged, dismayed and demoralized. Life throws a lot of stuff at us sometimes, and it’s easy to feel like we’re all in this alone rather than together.  We live in a culture which applauds individuality, promotes getting ahead at the expense of others, celebrates that which is cheap and easy, and flowers the path with negativity and mean spiritedness.  It's all too tempting to give in to despair, and more and more difficult to keep focused on the many good things that happen each day, and how the grace which is showered upon us should move us to look outside ourselves. 

So, (I hope) without being a Pollyanna or getting overly sanctimonious, I’ve decided to use this space to applaud the instances I see of people working for the common good, considering others, celebrating doing hard things because they’re the right things to do, and strewing seeds and flowers of positivity and good humor.  Because those are forms of re-gifting grace, and I mean to re-gift them in turn.