Enjoying the journey: quick updates as transitions continue

As I attempt to prepare myself for possibly the busiest few weeks of the year, I decided to productively procrastinate on my other writing assignments by sharing a quick update on what appears to be a long-neglected blog. I believe there are two primary reasons for the neglect:
1 – I was doing a LOT of writing for my residency and in large part, I simply did not want to do any writing in my “down” time or for fun
2 – Much of what I was processing was so intense it was hard to share in a public forum in an appropriate way (including respecting privacy, etc.)

At the end I was so tranformed, and graduation was a proud, happy time. Here is our class graduation photo:

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I do hope to look back on my residency and reflect on the year of learning at some point. For now, I will say that the year was extremely intense at times, and was exactly what I needed to affirm my calling to pastoral care and chaplaincy and to identify my strengths and growing edges in ministry and work on both lists (even managed transferred a few from the growing column over to the strengths). I also the many diverse and gifted individuals I worked with both directly and indirectly during my time at Mayo, Rochester.

So, today?

Today I am back in Dubuque, and we actually moved back at the very end of July (I returned to Rochester August 7th for my formal graduation for the residency program), and after a bringing the moving truck in on Sunday the 27th (after Shawn’s last internship preaching services), I started working as a chaplain at Mercy Medical Center in Dubuque on Monday morning July 28th. Life has been a whirlwind of transition in the near month since that morning.

In the midst of that whirlwind I am thankful for my family an friends that help anchor me and often are the presence of God and reminder of God’s grace.

Today I also realized that my participation at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Dubuque will be extremely centering for me this year, and was something I missed last year as I was so often at the hospital on weekends (that should rarely be the case this year). I am also doing my required congregational field work at HTLC, and I look forward to experiencing ministry from within the congregational context.

Now, I have a few papers to (finish) writing prior to prolog week … a week and a day count down …

And as returning to some of my daily spiritual practices has also been a challenge since the move I will begin here with one of my quick gratitude lists to motivate this daily intentional practice to … um, again become daily (personal) and frequent (public) …

At this moment I am grateful for:
wifi and water
central air conditioning that works
my husband, my life partner on this journey
my amazing daughters
the Dubuque Sat. Farmers Market
No more long commute to work!!!!!
Amazing classmates
Gifted co-workers
God’s loving grace and Holy Spirit that guides me through each day

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Today was an awesome, inspirational, meaningful, satisfying and exhausting day of work! Even though it is my short day :)

This is a little something I wrote quickly on my phone micro journaling app and realized I might want to more publicly reflect on this (& similar) experience here in the future, so I am sharing it as a snapshot in time regarding my reactions to chaplaincy and how I am continuing to find meaning this year.

Fridays post Thursday night call are always challenging. This morning when unit rounds started it seemed it was going to be one of those mornings I would just need to get through while looking forward to my weekend off starting with leisurely work out time this afternoon before catching the bus home. Thankfully I was wrong.

The unit was busy & a bit chaotic this morning as there were up to 9 possible discharges, and 4 new admits to transition during morning rounds (knowing with more d/c than admits that Monday we’ll walk into a full unit likely with transfers in from all over the state). Add to that a few last minute staffing changes and I admit my own personality preferences for small groups & predictability was being challenged (INFJ for Meyers Briggs fans) … I had to decide how to deal with those challenges and make a difference rather than just put in my time.

I decided that as much as I appreciate learning from the medical team during walking rounds, and there is benefit to my own ministry in being present as part of the team, it wasn’t the most effective way I could spend the morning today. Since I had several patients I had worked intensely with for an extended period discharging, I decided to start there. In one case I managed to time in sync with rounds (meeting one on one before & after).

Then while charting and attempting to prioritize my next possible visits (including listening as teams went in & out from rounding, ran through partial lists, etc.) I was able to take advantage of being in the right place at the right time. Being there for an immediate referral may have made the difference between my having this opportunity or it being passed to the on call chaplain after I was gone for the day. That is speculation, but I am certain that being integrated into the unit and part of the team made a difference. Although I smiled wondering what was coming next when the Dr. turned toward me & said “we need God” I was also humbled in being able to respond as the needed presence at the time for this patient.

Although I have always felt very welcome as part of the acute psych team, any referrals have been a little less acute (at least from an outward perspective). Later both the Doctor and the lead nurse for the team specifically went out of their way to thank me. It was both interesting and profound to experience that gratitude outside of the context of a patient death (I am becoming used to how just my presence relieves anxiety in those situations).

Although I of course cannot share specifics the visit touched on something that I think will be a common theme / need in my chaplain/ministry work. (I may write about the issue in general in the future). And interestingly enough I was aware of a continue ing Ed presentation starting at noon today on a very related topic. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go on my afternoon off … Until the end of this morning! Then it was perfect timing really.

Thankfully I still managed to fit in a quick 30 minute aerobic intense workout before rushing to catch the early bus home to my family.

I feel like on one side of this journey I have the blessing of my ministry time, those I minister to and with affirming my call and renewing my strength, and on the other side I have my beautiful and encouraging family always sending me off & welcoming me home with love & joy in all that I/we are. And through it all God’s loving presence to sustain me.

Sometimes it really is about showing up.

now hopefully I will be inspired to write more here

Settling into Harmony & my chaplaincy residency

Today it is raining and coolish and feels like fall.

It also feels like we are here living, working, MINISTERING … We are not so much in transition now, but rather we simply ARE. We are as settled into our home in Harmony, MN as we are likely to be this year. At this point I consider it an accomplishment to not think about the next move (back to Dubuque for our final seminary year at Wartburg), and to instead simply be and live in each moment. It is equally an accomplishment not to be obsessed about my future calling in ministry — to set aside the questions about what type of institution I could best use my particular “chaplain gifts” and to simply exist in this present moment and give that gift to those around me, and to myself.

Shawn has settled into his pastor internship here in the Harmony area, and thankful finds it energizing. Nessa has settled into 3rd grade at her new school and we thankfully hear very few complaints, fear, etc. And I thankfully find a new appreciation for my time at Mayo almost every day.

Mayo Clinic, and its hospitals, is a unique place to minister for many reasons including both the diversity of individuals that come to Mayo and the diverse hospital units one can minister on. The site is also unique in my experience in that there are still protestant chaplain-led worship services each Sunday. All of this and more works together to create a unique culture as well as unique opportunities for ministry. I am thankful to be a part of this … To be here in this place and time.

Although some days I can’t help thinking it would have been nice to be led here when I was younger and could go without sleep easier … I especially think this on my post-call days. Leading worship in two chapels after being on-call all night is certainly a unique challenge. Yet, even on days when I am tired or when chronic pain flares in one way or another (more often than I would like this fall), I realize that it is only now that I am prepared to use the gifts given to me by God to be fully present with others in their pain, grief, doubts AND hopes (there is much hope here) … To listen, to offer the few words that come to me, to give voice to scripture, to pray AND to BE.

Love and belief,
Tami

Halfway point transition — less than a month before we move!

It’s less than a month before we move — and that makes reaching this halfway point in our seminary journey seem very very real. I wish I had a nice photo of us to go with this post, but I’m not home (or I would likely be packing instead of writing), and didn’t think to take one as I started to pack boxes. I’ll wait and post one of us by the house in Harmony, MN … and other places there.

After we move I will have almost exactly a month to settle in at the new house, and enjoy some summer time with my daughters prior to their return to school and my starting my chaplaincy residency. I am confident the time will fly by considering how fast the first half of the summer escaped us.

I am starting to get inpatient to be back in a chaplaincy program though, so I think the timing will be perfect. I’m looking forward not only to again be doing actual pastoral care ministry in the hospital setting, but also to having a regular schedule with scheduled on-call times. I’m learning that another reason chaplaincy is a good fit is because even though I don’t always like to admit it, I do better with a predictable routine (with not much being predictable actually while working but at least my work/home routine is predictable).

I’m also very excited for Shawn. We visited all three of the internship churches last Sunday (talk about a whirlwind morning), and it is so clear that this is going to be a great experience for him. It will also be nice for him to preach on a predictable schedule and to a congregation he knows even though all of the pulpit supply preaching he has been doing has been wonderful as well.

Things I’m spending my time doing these days:

  • relaxing for bits of time with family and friends (fewer deadlines!)
  • packing and preparing for packing (purging!)
  • interviewing and writing (just a little work for WTS communications dept.)
  • baking — testing gluten free communion bread recipes … and trying to carve out time to write about it!
  • Connecting with friends when traveling (La Crosse, Dubuque, Winona, Rochester … well, I’m trying anyway … if you haven’t heard from me, give me a shout out)
  • Attempting to get back to a good exercise habit (yoga!!! and some running again in addition to daily walks) and other good self care habits … including daily meditation and prayer time now that I can no longer attend daily chapel
  • And about a million “little” to do items that seem to make it on the daily and weekly list

And a quick top 3 thankful at this moment list:

  1. Parents / Grandparents!! (Nessa is getting lots of time with her grandparents this summer and it is awesome!)
  2. My wonderful husband — Shawn is working hard this summer so well, so we can afford to live this summer as we transition from primarily students to hands-on learning (with stipends) … but our positions of course start at odd times leaving gaps that were hard to fill with paid work, but Shawn did awesome filling it with a pretty much full-time maintenance job, summer sacristan position, and many weeks of pulpit supply (his favorite I’m guessing) and for this I am very very thankful!
  3. That our cars are still running reasonably well … seems minor but with no money for major repair work right now every noise scares me … thankfully we were told the noise in the car isn’t an emergency (whew!) and can be put off to fall … praying we will be told the same for the van next week. Thankfully, we have had no auto related drama with all of our driving back and forth from Dubuque area to “home” this year!

Love and belief,
Tami

It was Time: Gluten-Free Communion Bread Blog Started

After several requests for Gluten-Free bread recipes for use as communion bread, I finally made the leap and started a blog specifically to share recipes and other practical information about gluten-free communion bread. The blog is http://gfcommunionbread.wordpress.com/ and as the title area of the blog says “it’s a beginning.”

Although I may link back and forth on occasion this remains my “meandering thoughts through this journey blog” while this new blog remains focused on the narrow subject of GF bread recipes and other practical aspects of inclusive communion elements.

Now I just have to carve out some time to spread the word within the GF and allergy communities online as well as letting clergy and others know about the resource. Feel free to help with that!

Today I give thanks for sunshine, time to write and colleagues that are interested in inclusive communion discussions — including GF bread!

 

Things I didn’t expect to happen while in seminary

I compiled this list over a few weeks as things occurred to me at the end of my second year of seminary.

Random things I didn’t expect to happen while in seminary (with no judgement about if these are good or not … just unexpected):

  • that I would become a stronger feminist
  • not only expanding my cooking knowledge but becoming passionate about making soup!
  • embracing bread making (gluten free of course!)
  • developing a deep rich theology surrounding Eucharist … deciding to research and write on inclusive communion
  • that I would not only be comfortable assisting in worship services, but embrace it joyfully as part of my ministry of presence!

Looking at that list I am curious what God has in store for me that may draw on some of these experiences!

God is good!

….

Love and belief,
Tami

Photos of us at Good Shepherd

I just want to share a few photos from last weekend at Good Shepherd before we move on to tomorrow when Shawn is preaching for pulpit supply at a classmate’s church nearby in Iowa while I assist him in worship.

After uploading these folders (on my old laptop) I remember why I usually stick to no photos and my iPad :-)

Today I am thankful for sunshine and family.

May the peace that passes all understanding keep you in light and love today.

tamishawnalbs

Tami in pulpit at Good Shepherd


Shawn Pulpit Good Shepherd

Rainy Day Reflections … part one (How was it to lead worship with your husband?)

While talking to classmates after chapel today I realized I
was not rushing off to do the next most urgent task on my list
immediately, but instead I actually need to take a moment and
reflect on how to best use my time today — mostly I need to decide
how to split my time between all of the things I put off over the
last coupe of weeks when I had to be focussed on a couple of strict
deadlines and what assignments that are due next week I should
start working on. Oh, and just maybe I can justify calling a friend
or playing Barbies with my 8-year-old daughter sometime today as
well (Nessa made the request already this morning because I was
recently, upon rediscovery, able to give her two Barbie dolls,
complete with homemade clothes, from when I was her age). :-)

First– A little reflection time before the intensity of recent
experiences evaporate … (maybe it’s the rainy weather or the
intense emotions of the week(s) … or maybe it just is the most
important thing this morning)

This past Sunday was the first time Shawn and I were able to lead Sunday worship together. Thankfully we were able to do this for the first time in our home congregation
(Good Shepherd Lutheran in La Crosse, WI). It was a joy to not only
be back among friends, but specifically to be among the brothers
and sisters in Christ that nurtured our faith. I mean this very
seriously — the members of Good Shepherd are a very important part
of my/our call stories. I cannot count how many times I lift up the
members and ministries of Good Shepherd to my colleagues here at
Seminary. While small group ministries were vital to us during our
years worshiping and being formed there, life truly centered around
worship for us and being there certainly brought joy and memories.
This is also the sanctuary and community where our daughter Nessa
was baptized and Megan confirmed her faith. Nessa, in particular
literally grew from baby to young child crawling, walking and
dancing through both that sanctuary and the long halls and rooms
where the people of God gather to study, pray, sing, eat and even
play together. Looking back at Nessa’s physical growth during our
time there is a wonderful metaphor for her parent’s faith growth
and formation as future leaders … and yes, I am getting a little
nostalgic.

I do though want to lift up the People of God at Good
Shepherd Lutheran in La Crosse. And I ask that all of you lift them
up in your prayers with me as I thank God for their joyful response
to God’s good news. I thank them for welcoming us as a family nine
years ago and for continuing to welcome us each time we are able to
return and worship there together. I also thank them specifically
for supporting us in our seminary journey with prayers and gifts
towards our education. I cannot express adequately how important
this support is to us in sustaining us through these years.
Seminarians are truly called and sent. Thank you people of Good
Shepherd for sending us!

Now, specifically, about how it was to
assist my husband in leading a worship service (or co-lead; how you
define it is not particularly important to me at this point, but
honestly I am happy to be in the assistant role … even on days
I’m preaching) — Well, to put it simply — it felt like the most
natural thing in the world to me. To me it felt like we can make a
good team and that any bumps that happened in the unfolding of the
service were not related to our working together in any way.

While assisting others my “presence” during worship has been affirmed by
both mentors (professors and others) as well as classmates, and I
thought it was of particular note that this was also commented on
after the service that Shawn and I led together. I personally,
appreciate this affirmation as part of what we refer to as
“external call.” One of the first ways I articulated my call to
diaconal ministry was by describing it as a call to a “ministry of
presence.” That description still fits with my primary call to
ministry even though I now am able to put additional description or
titles (such as chaplain) on it. When I came here (Wartburg) I did
not anticipate feeling the way I do when I am part of worship
leadership. It is still hard to describe — it is certainly the
Holy Spirit working …. I feel in many ways the same “presence”
that fills me and leads me during worship (especially when leading
prayers of the people) as I do when I am “simply present” with a
Child of God I meet for the first time when I walk into their
hospital room.

And that is enough for one blog post … more
emotional connections to follow. Love and belief, Tami

Productive Procrastination, or Seminarian Struggles and Joys

Really, my main objective, besides avoiding writing my Hebrew Bible paper (or one of ten other assignments), is to let my few readers know that I am still here — and better yet, I am feeling at least reasonably well these days (after being ill with multiple viruses for much of Spring semester up through Easter). So, this is primarily a general update on what is going on as I keep on keeping on through my 2nd semester of my 2nd year of seminary.

I also have big news — my husband Shawn (http://leavingmyselfbehind.wordpress.com/) and I can now officially announce where we will be next year. Next year is Shawn’s internship year during his “pastor prep” studies and I will be doing field work as well via a year-long hospital chaplaincy. I was offered (and accepted) a chaplain residency at Mayo School of Health in Rochester, MN (starting September 2013) and we recently found out that Shawn’s internship churches will be in Harmony, MN (about 40 minutes south of Rochester on Hwy 52). We went to visit the Harmony area this past Saturday as we were going to be in Rochester anyway, and we were quite taken with the town and are very much looking forward to the year there in spite of my original reluctance to be in a small town for the year.

As background info our education “schedule” works like this.

  • 2 Academic years (we are both seminarians at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, IA)
  • 1 field work year / internship (actually my degree program doesn’t require me to follow this exact schedule for fieldwork, but Shawn’s does so it simply works best for our family if I do some of my field work at the same time … and it gives me great experience!)
  • A final year (3rd academic year; 4th year total) back at Wartburg in Dubuque. Shawn will have a strictly academic year while I finish up classes, including classes focusing on my research project, and complete my congregational field work hours (all previous field work will have been done doing chaplaincy in a hospital and I need congregational hours as well).
  • During that final year at Wartburg, Shawn and I will also be going through the final phase of candidacy with the ELCA — Approval. Then, we will go through the assignment process and be assigned a region of the country and then a synod within that geographic region … and then receive calls to ministry.
  • Our expected graduation is May 2015 and really that final point of the last bullet can happen before or after graduation (we do not accept/start the call position until after graduation of course.
  • Shawn will graduate with an Master of Divinity degree and feels called to congregational ministry as a pastor.
  • I will graduate with a Master of Arts in Diaconal Ministry and feel called to working in pastoral care ministries — ideally bridging both church ministry and other “institutional” ministries (like hospital chaplaincy). At some point, not necessarily as part of my first call to ministry, I am likely to seek certification as a chaplain as well (another lengthy process).

OK, Whew. Hope that was helpful for a few. I have had numerous questions and thought it might be helpful. Please comment with any additional questions and I will answer there or do a Q&A post.

Now a few quick thankful shout-outs to highlight just a few of the many many joys in my life:

  • A husband that really really understands my call to diaconal ministry!
  • A brilliant 8-year-old daughter (8 for a week now!) who tells us that the reason we can’t stand in the kitchen hugging and dancing is because we wouldn’t be able to give her a kiss goodnight that way. :-)
  • Lots of extended family to love and care for our girls (especially fun with birthdays)
  • A Mom and daughter that want to spend time quilting together (it’s so nice when all three of us can get together and kind of just “be” in that way … just wish I was healthier when we did that over Spring Break)
  • Classmates / colleagues that look forwarding to working with me and appreciate my voice and presence.

For the above — and SO MUCH MORE — each day I give God thanks and praise!

I did mention struggles though too, right? See as my colleague and I were just talking about I want to be authentic as well. It can be really challenging to be authentic without coming across as complaining at times though — especially to those that have not experienced the intensity of such a formative seminary experience. Seminary is challenging and formative even in the best of circumstances. When juggling family responsibilities with two full-time seminarian students as family is the reality, well I don’t think I can describe it while still in the process of living through it. I can’t be objective about this experience. I just can’t, and I think that is why I have had an especially hard time blogging this year. It’s not just the challenge of making time to do it. In some ways I am more relaxed about time this year even though I have less of it than ever before.

At the same time there are only mere seconds that I doubt at all that I am not exactly where I should be. I would not have imagined this journey a decade ago, and yet now I can not imagine any other journey. I often wonder if I am more different now than I am the same person of a decade ago. (In many ways it is not simply a nice reference to say “a decade” because it was indeed about a decade ago that my life changed drastically.)

I believe I have said it before, if not here then elsewhere, but talking about life here reminds me of some of the old military ad campaigns, or the peace corps motto of “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” Nearly ever single day I think about how hard this is in so many ways, and yet I LOVE it at the same time. I love the challenge; I love the way I will struggle and struggle through a paper and when done really feel like I can articulate a theological viewpoint that I could not previously do; I love the way new ideas are part of so many conversations here both in and out of class; I love how we take each other and our questions seriously; Oh, and I love listening to Shawn practice his sermons and being able to be taken seriously as his “first hearer” … and I love collaborating in so many ways with him; and I love that there is much more to this than I could possibly say at the moment.

At the same time most days I think the school’s admissions office is likely keeping any couple who both want to go to school at the same time far away from us because I will tell them — do NOT DO IT — try to do anything else first! (In reality I am much much more encouraging … most days). In reality I do not spend enough time on school work; I do not spend enough time with my daughters; I do not spend enough time with my husband; I do not spend enough time with my family (parents, siblings, in-laws, etc.); I do not spend enough time with my dear friends (here or elsewhere!) and I do not always steward my own personal resources well either (spending sufficient time resting, praying, exercising and so on).

Too much of this semester has been spent in a “triage” mode. I look only to what is the next most urgent thing on my list and that is it. I frequently have dozens of things on my list that simply never get done at all because of this (birthday cards and phone calls are just the tip of the iceberg). I didn’t think this year would be this hard. Then, I thought second semester would be better. I am now realizing I need to be able to find a way through even when this constant urgency continues.

We are told in many ways by many mentors that in some ways seminary is preparing us for ministry. Likely one of those ways is that there will always be way more for me/us to do than we can possibly do, and I will need to be able to triage in a way that does not seem like an Emergency room that admits only extremely urgent items to my attention and keeps me operating on adrenaline (not good for someone with chronic auto-immune illness anyway). To be fair, there are days that I get much closer to that and in many ways I am much more relaxed this year than last year. However, there is much more to do.

I wondered if naming this reality a bit here would encourage me as I need it. I pray that it does.

How do you manage yourself through time?

How do you express your joys and struggles? remain honest and authentic while maintaining an attitude of grace and gratitude?

Until next time, which I hope will be soon, may peace and joy be yours.

Love and belief,

Tami

Diaconal Voice of Proclaimation

I’m not sure how to reblog from a Blogspot blog, so I will just post the link below. As I recover from multiple/ongoing viral winter illnesses, I have been reading more than writing, and I am thankful today to be able to read on my classmate and colleague’s blog as she reflects on her Diaconal Ministry fieldwork experience as well as what proclamation of the the Word means as a Word and Service minister.

http://heidifieldwork.blogspot.com/2013/03/late-night-ramblings-of-diaconal.html?showComment=1363795451252#c5680104921132730852