When I started this reflection I did not intend to write so many parts. But as I have thought back to those days a lot of memories have risen up.
My first year of seminary went fairly well, academically. I learned a lot although I continued to struggle with words like: “Justification” and “righteousness” – it seemed like the different theologians I read all used these words (and others) in a slightly different way. By Ash Wed. of that first year my church had called a new priest and so I was able to begin the process of working with him. He was a wonderful priest, very calming, gentle, smart. After about a year of knowing each other he received permission from the diocese to begin a discernment committee for me. It seems after much reflection and work with my SD I had decided that I thought God was calling me to ordination. I was in my second year of the dual degree program, my first year at the social work school. I was doing an internship at a local hospital, for my social work degree. I was working as a chaplain in the rehab unit, working with addicts of all sorts. My internship involved several areas: I was in charge of teaching them about the importance of spirituality in a successful recovery. It was distinctively NOT about religion, but about faith in a higher power, what ever they wanted to call that. I was uniquely qualified, given my background as a fallen away Christian who had explored all other faith traditions, and then come back to Christianity, with a very open heart and mind. The fact that I found myself working on this rehab unit would proved providential for my personal life.
In addition to the spiritual end I was also learning the social work end of rehab – how to do group therapy and one on one therapy, how to write up reports and do SOAP (which I can’t recall what that means, but it’s an acronym for charting in medical records). My social work supervisor was great as were all the other staff people. It was a wonderful internship for me.
So, things were moving along academically and in my discernment, but life at home was not going so well. My husband and I had been married about 11 years, our kids were 8 and 4. The commute to the seminary was grueling – I’d leave home at 7am and return about 6pm. But in addition to that I was trying to get my husband into a recovery program. We had been working on it for years…but denial is steep and pervasive and he relapsed often. I was able to get us, during this very low time, to sell our house and move to the seminary. My thinking was that it would relieve some of our financial concerns, seminary is expensive. It would give me more time with the kids and as a family, and it would put my husband closer to work. I also knew that I could push harder for recovery and or the end of my marriage, if I didn’t have to worry about house payments.
We moved into the seminary in August of 1996. Down the hall another woman also moved in. She and I became fast friends. It turns out her husband was also in recovery, many years of sobriety, after many failed attempts. She, along with my work at the rehab unit, gave me hope and support and courage. I lined up a family therapist for my kids and us, my husband and I were in marital counseling, I told the dean of the seminary and the person in charge of student housing, in case my finances collapsed. I told my friends and asked for their prayers. I told my discernment committee and priest.
Once everything was in place I took all of our financial stuff, debit cards, etc. and locked them away. Then I gave my husband an ultimatum, it was the Friday before Palm Sunday. I remember standing in our bedroom that morning, telling him – sobriety or we’re through. It was the only time I have ever been afraid of my sweet gentle husband. He was panicked and angry. But our kids were sleeping in the next room, and he would do nothing to upset them. Off he went to do whatever it was he was going to do.
Later that week, after I gave him the ultimatum, I had a profound experience. It was Thursday night, Maundy Thursday, I signed up to spend time in the chapel at 1:00am. This was my first experience of sitting, praying, at an “altar of repose.” The chapel was dimly lit, candles and some green plants around the table with the reserved bread and wine. I sat there for an hour and prayed. and cried. In the midst of it all these words, this hymn, floated into my consciousness, “I want to walk as a child of the light, I want to follow Jesus…in Him there is no darkness at all, the day and the night are both alike…” Yes, I stayed awake with Jesus in that dark night, and he came into my life in new way.
In that moment I understood that I was on the right course, that God was with me. The experience of being enveloped by a loving God in the midst of that darkness showed me how to love as well. I had no idea what the outcome would be, but I knew it had to include loving in darkness. And so I worked at loving my husband through that dark time. A tough love, but love nonetheless, filled with support and reconcilation, and hope. He got sober that time, and has stayed so for 12 years.
This was the first time in my life that I had really stood up for something, stood strong, and caused a significant change. Up to this point I had always been passive, feeling incapable of affecting any real change in my life. Now I knew otherwise. Thanks to the rehab work, the various counselors, my friends, my faith, I was able to stay strong, push hard, insist on certain things, and still love my husband. It was a tough love that included a lot of love, healthy love.
Life sailed along pretty smooth after that point until the next major hurdle came in February of 1998 when I attended the “Discernment Weekend.”….