Left Behind…by the Church

I was just hit in the gut by this excerpt from the Christian Post. It jumped out at me because of some research I tried to begin 2-3 years ago, with an attempt to poll pastors’ wives to see if any others felt disenfranchised due to itineracy practices in the church (among other issues of potentially perceived neglect surrounding ministerial spouses).


The Hurting Pastor’s Wife

As my post on pastor’s wives became a lively conversation, I was struck by one comment in particular. Indeed I was almost brought to tears as I read it. Here are her words without any changes, additions, or deletions:

I wish my husband would have included me in his life to be his cheerleader. I wish he would have respected my calling and ministry. I wish someone would have told me that he was going to neglect me and forget about our dreams as a married couple. Now he lives for the church. Birthdays and anniversaries do not exist in this home. I’m tired of eating dinners alone and having anniversary trips cancelled because he has no interest. What does he always tell me? Oh yeah, “The Kingdom of God is always first.” Now even my faith in God is at question. How could God give me a husband who is a pastor and so easily live without me? I feel stuck in this marriage. I am unfulfilled as a woman, wife, minister, and mother. Everything he promised me he has broken. I wish someone would have told me it would be this way. Then maybe I would have paid more attention to my gut feeling!

Wow. The pain is so obvious. The hurt is so deep.

Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/confessions-of-a-broken-pastors-wife-102705/#L93j0T7kOsBi2gwU.99


So how does my story relate? Here it is, in as much brevity as I can muster.

I was a widow with two teenagers and an adopted two-year-old (then turned 4) when I agreed to marry my second husband, an educator and youth leader (like myself) who had plans to attend seminary. Even though I had two times of great pause prior to marriage, I reasoned that because of our common interests, I should be excited at the prospect of serving GOD in ministry together. The first 3 years of our marriage were not together, as he attended seminary out of town, while I worked to support us and continued solely to raise my children. A few years of him being in full-time ministry thereafter, I began to realize that my idea of “togetherness” was probably a disillusioned one. Apparently, our life together, in general, was plagued with disappointments (including our family being less than the perfect illusion for which we both may have been hoping).

Our first major personal disagreement happened at 7 years of marriage, at which time he told me he was giving me two days to move out, because the parsonage was for the pastor, not the pastor’s family. I was dumbfounded, thinking of how I’d sold the home I’d provided for me and my children, to help support my husband’s seminary costs and ministry capabilities. My sister was kind enough to provide temporary shelter to me and my youngest son; whereafter, I purchased my own home once more. Upon attempting to reconcile with my pastoral husband, I negotiated to keep my home (which I was afraid to give up, in the event my youngest son and I were displaced again), while my husband maintained residency at the parsonage and came and went from my house as he pleased – as long as I made all the payments and didn’t disclose our living arrangements to anyone at the church. This particular compromise went on for four years, as I completed and he began a doctoral degree. I quietly came to grips with the fact that neither my marriage nor our “shared” ministry had been what I had expected. (I now classify that relational stage as the beginning of isolation.)

That’s when the big relational bomb dropped.

My ministerial husband requested to move churches. Due to growing dissatisfaction, he  informed his District Superintendent that he’d be willing to move anywhere within our Church Conference to accommodate this request (despite my own appeals that, due to my highly specialized job and the timing of my youngest son’s schooling, he should explain that his ability to move among districts was limited). Two months later, my husband informed me that he would be assigned to a church 3 hours away.

I was shocked that neither of the District Superintendents nor anyone in the (administrative) Church seemed too disturbed with the fact that his family could not accompany him. I was further shocked when my husband informed me that, had he requested a limited range of movement, he could have been assigned a 5-point charge (a seemingly unworthy assignment that likely doesn’t even exist). My husband and others in the church system also expressed to our family that it was not befitting to attend our prior church, as it could appear we were usurping the ministry of the new pastor and his wife. Overnight, we had become foreigners in our own land. I was distraught that my husband’s ministerial work position was more important than a ministering position to his family. My son and my friends were also confused, but accepted my superficial assurances. I did the best I could to convince everyone, including myself, that this decision was of GOD, and we should be compelled to support it. In truth, I began to question if GOD was punishing me for not being a more faithful spouse in holding onto a house for emotional insurance reasons, among other thoughts I had been entertaining. I decided that my best plan of recourse was to use the research skills I had acquired in graduate school and try to be a positive voice for spouses who might also feel disenfranchised by the itineracy or other church practices.

At the time of my research planning, when attempting to lay the groundwork, only one person responded to express her frustration in a social network forum meant only for the eyes of pastoral spouses. This pastor’s wife’s responsive post was immediately admonished (literally within seconds) by other wives in the group, who tried to minimize her anguish. Perhaps it was to mask their fears that I’d brought up the potential dissatisfaction that might be costly to their own spouses’ next appointments, had they taken what they perceived to be “the bait.” Or perhaps the immediate negative response by those “in charge” of the group was meant to instill a fear in others of being likewise bullied should anyone else consider responding. Or perhaps, as I reasoned then, the issue was a personal one not shared by many, if any, others. Meanwhile, I physically, emotionally and even spiritually spent myself that next year, traveling up and down the freeway to attend my husband’s church 3 hours away, never feeling fully incorporated into that body of believers. My youngest son and I were brought to the front of the church one Sunday to be added as members (informed by my husband that we were needed on the rolls to numerically increase membership for the year). By the following year, I was so discouraged and burnt out, I struggled to find places to worship locally with friends. (My isolation had transitioned to a longer-term relational stage of isolated complacency.) Never in my life have I felt like such an outsider. 

By the time I laid my research project aside, convinced I’d never hear the truth from others suffering (if others existed), I realized that my own spouse had become completely non-communicative with me, comfortably living at a distance in another part of the state for our final 3 years of marriage, without making any provision for his family. Our personal visits and prayer life had become non-existent; our phone calls had grown sparse and meaningless; and any requests for support (more often emotional than physical) were met with great reluctance or outright resistance. Furthermore, the people from our church grew content to be just as non-forthcoming about “the elephant in the room” – or the one that wasn’t present if you visited either of our very separate residences. If the church’s needs were being met through the pastoral appointment of my husband, the pastor’s family dynamics seemed to be of no great consequence. The church obviously needed an appointed pastor more than his family did. (And, in truth, they got something I never did, since my husband once bluntly stated to me that he could never be my pastor. He had effectively relationally distanced himself, far beyond miles on a freeway.)

After giving so much of myself to the church, including supporting a husband through two graduate degrees (completely financially through the first), I have become a bit disillusioned. Not in GOD. Never in the beauty of how Jesus Christ came to restore humanity to Himself. Just in the reality of how we can so miss the mark of worship in our service to others – particularly to those with whom we make covenant. That greatly saddens me in myself, always left to wonder what blame I should take in being a covenant-breaker. And in all this, I’m left to wonder for what the modern-day church intends to stand. We do a wonderful job of preaching social justice and servitude – while we offer no mercy or grace to those that should reside in our own homes.

I understand that when 1 finger is pointed outward, 3 are pointed back at the accuser. In the perilous exposure of divorce, I’ve had enough accusations thrown my way that I just want to tuck my hands in my pockets and remain quiet. But that may have been where I detrimentally contributed the most. Apparently I, too, missed the mark greatly when I held in my suffering to the breaking point, to the point when upon finally addressing my husband with tears and remorse, I was merely offered an affirmation from him that we really had nothing more to discuss on the matter. An impasse with someone who no longer shared life with me seemed only to equate to divorce. Perhaps I was wrong about that, but given many other collateral circumstances – especially the one where I heard nothing more from him for months, until 2 days before the final hearing (and then only vitriolic criticisms), I don’t think so. I’ve tried to come to peace about that. I know, however, that peace can only come from the Prince of Peace, Himself. I rely on that daily.

As for me, I will confess:
I still feel displaced in church worship –
-as displaced as when my husband told his District Superintendent over 3 years ago that he could itinerate anywhere in the Conference without worry, and persuaded me to corroborate the story, when asked;
-as displaced as when I gave my husband a ride home from Annual Conference this past year, without him speaking a word or sharing a thought with me, knowing it was the last year I would ever spend time there with my youngest son and grandchildren, as this had been our family’s only vacation time;
-as displaced as my (now prior married) name that was so easily removed from all ties with the church, again without a word from anyone there;
-as displaced as the emptiness I feel when I receive the email list of church members who have passed, people with whom I felt relationship, and have no one with whom to mourn;
-as displaced as the lack of mounds of Christmas cards to write to my church family or the exhausting bustle of church demands that this special advent season traditionally brings;
-as displaced as my distrust that now questions the idea of ever sharing anyone else’s name or dreams;
-as displaced and disenfranchised as my research plan.

As for that research, I realize I’ve been gathering my own empirical data for many years now. And, yes, the pain is so obvious. The hurt is so deep.

I pray that the Church will awaken to the detrimental practices of an outdated system that does not work for all pastoral families. And, though it might not have saved my own marriage, I pray that – one day soon – there will be pastors and pastoral spouses who will not be afraid to take a stand of social justice for those who have been disenfranchised by such antiquated ideals.

Until then…I’ll just continue to pray.

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The New Personalization of Depersonalization

As a young healthcare professional of a couple of decades ago, one of the earliest lessons given to me in the clinical setting was to never depersonalize my patient. Rather than “the possible ankle fracture in Waiting area 2,” I was to reference “Mr. Jones, who will be receiving an x-ray of his ankle.” Someone would’ve escorted Mr. Jones (likely by wheelchair) to my department’s waiting area, where he would be – you guessed it – waiting for me to come out, call him by full name for identification purposes, introduce myself as I addressed Mr. Jones by his formal name (which would likely make him uncomfortable because he wasn’t used to being addressed as Mr. Jones), and then I would wheel him back to the room as we chit-chatted about anything from pets to pet-peeves (his, not mine, mind you).

Fast forward to today.

I took my son for a CT scan this afternoon. (CT is short for ‘x-ray on steroids’). He was called by his name only once – at registration in the confines of a corner-concealed cubicle – and it was by last name first (apparently to confuse anyone else in the vicinity who was in excruciating pain but might otherwise wish to eavesdrop and be in need of an additional x-ray for a broken HIPAA regulation). As we were directed from the open, airy, sun-filled waiting room toward the dank, dark recesses of radiology, I began to wonder if my son had been transformed into “he who must not be named.” (By ‘directed,’ I mean we were told to go to radiology, followed by some vague instructions that didn’t work the first time – probably because the director wasn’t sure if he could speak the name of the floor or department aloud, lest a HIPAA dementor be floating by to suck the life out of him. Wait. Too late.)


Arriving at the Radiology desk, my son’s papers were quickly snatched from his hand, where he was instructed that he would no longer be referred to by his name there. Rather, he was handed a number, as apparently had been every other person in the bat cave.

Forgive the blurriness - but I took this with my secret i-sphy-phone when I thought no one was looking.

Forgive the blurriness – but I took this with my secret i-spy-phone when I thought no one was looking.

I wasn’t sure if I was even allowed to glance around the room. I mean, were I to recognize someone, how appropriate would it be to say, “Well, hello there, Double-Oh-Seven. Why, I haven’t seen you around since you stole a kiss from me in that coat closet while we were still in single digits. You know, back when we all still called you Jimmy. Me? You want my number? Oh, you mean that number. No, I don’t have one of those little slips like….” I figured secret service agents might rush in and pull me out about then. So I kept my eyes to the floor – or to my iPhone. Close enough. Doesn’t HIPAA realize that’s why no one would’ve noticed anyone in there anyway? Unless someone was bold enough to check in on Facebook, I guess.

I digress.

My point to this story, you ask? Take a look at the nomenclature assigned to this number:  “Your Personal Number.” Good thing it was personal, meaning, I guess, that my son didn’t have to share it with anyone else. Can you imagine another 233 standing when his personal number was called? How embarrassing to be the wrong Number 233 – especially if you replied for the Barium Enema when you were there for the CT of your ribs. Even Mr. Jones might not have gotten that kind of guarantee.

Woe be it to the patient who loses that slip of paper and forgets the secret code number though. If you thought SOB was an offensive diagnosis, see how you feel about being SOL.

HIPAA-crits.

So why can’t you choose your number to help your memory along? Couldn’t a trucker be 10-4? A smart cop would insist on 10-43. Of course, Usain Bolt would always insist on being number 1. Marilyn Manson would probably ask for 666 every single time he came for his annual colonoscopy. (I guess his day would really be ruined if the anti-Christ showed up first.) And what about the prima donna who wants to be seen before everyone else, so she opts for a high-pitched 911? OK, I see the problem with my twist on this idea now. Best to keep us all as generic as Mr. Jones.

A century of nonsensical reflections later…

I’m wondering if my son is going to return to me with some secret identity. Didn’t Spidey have some radiation-related incident? If he comes out, powers up his Droid (that I’m sure he’ll be Jones-ing for), and wastes no time jumping on the Web, I’ll know to be logarithmically suspicious.

Fortuitous Stories are Made Every Day

I just recently finished my novel, Rolling River. As the writer, I of course have a responsibility to orchestrate events to move my characters towards some form of resolution. Even if they feel everything is spinning out of control, I can’t let them stay that way – no matter how many edits it takes.

Oh, that real life always worked that way, right?

But wait. Every beautiful once in awhile, it does!

Take, for example, this Wednesday.

It didn’t start out too great. My youngest son was diagnosed with pneumonia, but we got that dealt with for the time being.
One of my dearest friends was having a birthday, and a group of us was getting together to celebrate at lunch.

What it looks like when our group of high school friends gets together for lunch

Many laughs later, it was time to go back and face the work world again. I had loitered with two of my besties in the parking lot, encouraging and being encouraged, and then we parted ways. As I got into my car, I thought to warn the canoodling couple in front of me not to let my car startle them when I started it. (It had squealed a little that morning and I had to get it to the shop the next day to be checked out.)

As promised, it squealed. Only very loudly this time. Then smoke started pouring in through my vents and out from under my hood.

An Unrealistic Re-enactment that I found on the Internet.

As I shut it down, I heard the shocked man in front of me yell, “Pop the hood!” Before I could feel guilty that I’d ruined his goodbye kiss, his significant blonde other had come around to assist me.

Looking back, how I think the couple may have actually looked…

No sooner had the helpful stranger diagnosed my problem as “a broken drive belt,” producing evidence of it swinging in his hand, than I heard a familiar voice coming across the parking lot behind me. “Jody, what have you done now?”

I turned to face one of our prior youth leaders at church, Greg, who also fortuitously works in the repair shop closest to where I’d broken down. He told me he could get my car towed and taken care of. I told him I could meet him half-way on the towing – I had AAA.

“Let me get a ride back to the shop and go get my truck. I’ll come back and pick you up,” he nodded.

The lady who had been at the scene of my car’s crime wanted to assure I felt comfortable with those arrangements. (She also offered to take me to the mammogram I’d just cancelled, if needed. I guess she figured Greg wouldn’t want to do that! Any hey, I figured we weren’t strangers anymore about the time I’d told her about the mammogram; but I assured her it was all just as well – I was happy to put that trauma off for a few more days.)

No sooner had the couple left and Greg returned than one of my besties surprised me by coming back across the parking lot. “You go back to work and wait on her car to get there,” she told Greg. “I’ll hang out with her until the tow arrives and then take her to work.”

And that’s how it went. I never had to do much of anything for myself – except make the call to AAA.

But that’s not really the end of this story. It has a better punchline from the grand writer’s perspective.

My oldest son stopped by my house that evening for dinner, and I was telling him about my day. When I finished my story, he leaned back with a big grin on his face.

“You know,” he smiled, “every time I stop to help someone and they try to pay me, I always tell them that I’m helping them because I know if my mom or my fiance’ ever breaks down, God will make sure that someone’s right there to help them.”

My oldest son with his fiance’. (If he ever stops to help you out, he’s a pretty good fella’.)

It wasn’t too long before he was on the phone with his fiance, sharing my story and assuring her, “You know how I know that you’re gonna’ be alright if you ever break down? Because God showed me how faithful He was in watching over my mom today. She didn’t even have a chance to worry, and everybody else had already solved her problem for her.”

Now, I’m not going to tell you that usually happens. I’d never have a chance to grow in life if everybody else always solved my problems for me. But isn’t it nice to know that, every beautiful once in awhile, our faith isn’t tested as much as it’s simply gifted?

Don’t miss those fortuitous stories of resolution in your own life either (’cause I’ll bet they come up more often than any of us truly ever notice.)

Gray sand peas,

Jody

Why I Let My Kid Skip School (to come to My Defense)

The school-skipping offender – and his pup

I let my son skip the first day of his high school junior year this week.

I’m pretty sure it was a more difficult decision for me than for him.

Like most parents who care about their kids’ success, I didn’t want my son to miss out on any key information – like his new locker combination.

I didn’t want him to get behind before the school year had even started – especially behind some cute little gal who’d swing her hair all over his desk during the school year because he missed getting a seat up front, near the teacher. (Surely, that’s where he always tries to sit.)

I didn’t want him to miss out on the excitement of those first few magical moments of a new school year – the high-fashion runway reunions that are only surpassed by the final few hours of summer bum hang-out plans that will now have to wait until about 300 days into the future.

But my son wasn’t having it any other way. He wasn’t going to take ‘No’ for an answer.

Do you think that makes me a weak-minded parent?

If so –

Let me take you back 5 years, to the beginning of his first day in middle school.

That’s when we began our new journeys together. He was transitioning into a new school, where he didn’t know anyone…and so was his mom. (Different school, different anyones.)

He was entering a world where the development of personal organizational skills would be just as imperative as grasping the meaning of girls’ eyes being batted at him with curves trickier than hard hit baseballs – to which he was only otherwise accustomed.

I was entering a world where my batting average of organizational skills would be the only means by which I was going to stay in the game of academia. No sooner had I dropped my son off for that first week of school and gotten my work day in, than I was sitting in a classroom of new colleagues myself. My class was on its way to forming robust doctoral candidates – and sturdy support systems for one another.

I’m happy to report that both my son and I made immediate and long-lasting friends during our week of firsts…and we’ve both honed our organizational and study skills over these past 5 years (while he’s apparently honed his girl-reading skills during that time too). Much of that (not the girl-stuff) came from many study sessions and hours of commiserating – not always solely with our peers, but quite often with one another.

I can think back to one evening at the table when my 7th grade son discovered that, with his new-found algebraic skills, he could easily perform my graduate statistics textbook equations. From there, he double-checked my homework answers for me, assuring me I should get a 100% on my assignment.

I can think back to an 8th grade science project where my son tapped into the collegiate research process to develop his research poster methodology, which he then had to explain in detail to his science teacher to receive a grade. (The more popular ‘swiping water faucets for germs experiment’ doesn’t generally require mixed methods of study.)

And I think back on my past few years of ‘bleacher classes’ – all of those evenings when my textbooks, articles, and my own research work were strewn across seasons of both indoor and outdoor bleachers – just so I could attend all of my son’s sporting events to cheer on his stellar athletic feats. (Yes, I’m a mom. Of course they were all stellar. No, I don’t ordinarily work the word ‘strewn’ into my everyday conversations.)

From the beginning, my son understood that my goal was to beat him – meaning that I hoped to graduate before he did. We might have even gotten a little competitive about it on occasion. There were times when I wasn’t sure I would make that goal. But as of this week, my day finally came. After a huge push of collecting the final data in my longitudinal study, carefully analyzing the information, and working to best communicate the results during this past year…

My Day of Defense Arrived!

Unfortunately, my dissertation defense was scheduled later than I had anticipated, what with research never quite going as planned, the scheduling of my own students’ graduation, and then some of my committee members out of town (or even out of the country).

I was extremely disappointed when I learned that my defense wouldn’t take place until the morning of my son’s first day of school. I had wanted him to be there to experience my defense – to see the final product of the past several years of our educational journey together…but not at the cost of him missing his first day of school. I come from a long line of teachers, you see, so this was pretty much a commandment growing up: “Thou shalt not miss school.” That rule was so ingrained in me that I even stayed at my desk at the age of 10, doubled over with a fever – at least until my appendix eventually gave way and exploded.

Despite me pulling out the engraved commandment stone (albeit cracked from misuse at some point during my mid-teen years), my son wasn’t going to have it any other way. He argued that he would only be missing 2 or 3 morning classes. He argued that he wouldn’t be missing any information that he couldn’t gather the next day. He argued that even his teachers would agree it was important for him to see a doctoral defense – that it would inspire him in his own post-high school education. And then, when all else failed, he pulled out the big guns and aimed. He argued that we had started this journey together, and he wanted to see it to completion. Didn’t I, after all, plan on being there for him when his school years concluded?

On the morning of my defense, there he sat – along with other family members who surprised me by changing their work schedules drastically (meaning they were supposed to be in other cities and states) to be there in a showing of support for me. As I took my first breath to begin my defense, I knew immediately that all was well. Had I stumbled over my words or my feet, had I bumbled the entire presentation and been at a complete loss for words, I realized that none of that truly mattered. This day was complete. I was supported greatly in love.

My youngest son wasted no time getting a ride back from my colleagues the minute my presentation was over – since I had to stay to meet with my dissertation committee for a final time. In his lack of words, I heard the message. My son was assuring me that his academics were important to him too.

I didn’t see him again until late that evening, when he finally came in from his football practice – hot, tired, and hungry. As he sat his backpack and gym bag down, he walked over to me, hugged me up and said, “Mom, you did a great job today. I wouldn’t have missed that for the world.”

I’m pretty sure it was his way of saying that he was glad I’d let him skip school – and maybe (just maybe) that I’d even beaten him to graduation.

My Chief Lesson

For any additional lightness in my pocketbook today, my heart is feeling many more times heavy.

I lost a best friend last night. A loyal companion. An intense playmate.

He was the one who loved it whenever I put my feet all over him.

He was the one who looked most forward to taking long evening walks with me next to his side.

He was the one who would chase me around our couches, then turn the other direction and run from me – always keeping me rolling in giggles.

And he was the one who would chase his tail just to entertain everyone else.

I guess you’d call him our “pack clown.”

Through highly intelligent eyes, he anticipated what I wanted from him.

Through a curious and loving heart, he didn’t always do what I asked him not to do.

And with that ridiculous tongue hanging out, his humor came through in his big canine smile.

***

Last night, as we were walking home with some of the rest of our pack, he began to wheeze. He veered from a well-known path, desperately trying to remain upright. Within seconds, he was retching and trying to regain his uprightness where he had collapsed. Our 2 T’s headed off to get the car, as I sat helplessly in an unknown neighbor’s yard, watching my buddy’s gums and tongue turn gray, as he strained to squeeze anything through his air passage.

We never saw it coming.

Forty minutes earlier, he and I had been doing the happy dance together. (I had come in from work and asked if he wanted to go on a W-A-L-K, which was my joke with my family – that he was so smart he could spell.)

Chief – that was our sweet boy’s name – ran to the rack where his collar and lead were hanging, jumped around in circles, then came back smacking his long tail into everything that managed to horizontally get in his way. As he saw me grab up my tennis shoes, he impatiently danced around some more, finally unable to contain his excitement, jumping up to “hug” me – just before he turned back and waited to be fitted into his own “sports gear.” He always got so excited about our family walks. He loved to explore, and he loved doing it as a family unit – a pack.

It seemed like it took years to get to the emergency clinic after the incident (since his vet was already closed by then). My oldest son left his ballgame to meet us there, instinctively understanding this would be the last chance he’d have for loving on his pup.

Although they intubated Chief the minute we arrived, that wasn’t going to get rid of the clot in his lung. We were told that he could remain on a mechanical respirator for $1,000 per day, but even if we could afford that, his life would no longer be his own.

Though we got to be with him as he was euthanized, he was already on so much medication to ease his stress, only we were the ones who were aware. Despite our prayer over him, it was a distressful departing. No sooner had we stepped out of one room, after saying our unworthy good-byes, than we were presented with a $400 bill, immediately due. Was that the closure then?

We’re all numb today – traumatized. We brought Chief home, so his remains can at least be close by. But that’s never enough, is it?

I want my friend back. Waking up this morning without him on his bed was disorienting. Driving through my neighborhood this morning, passing the sidewalk of our final journey together, was excruciating. I dread going home this afternoon, to abide in the obvious emptiness without his presence to greet me. My grief feels immense.

Yet, there is a Chief lesson that I’ve learned in this.

Grieving is important. It reminds us of the immense capability we have to love; the importance of sharing in that love as part of living. What would a relationship be worth if there were no pain in its loss?

Chief holds a special place in our hearts. I can’t imagine going on without him to brighten our days.

But I can’t imagine how much less our lives would be had we never had him to love in the first place.

A friend loves at all times…
Proverbs 17:17a

 

 

 

 

Where’s Your Gumption Gonna’ Getcha’?

We just finished our interview and acceptance process of students for the upcoming year.
I’ve gone through these proceedings more times than I care to remember at this point – painstakingly scoring academic records, notifying applicants of missing materials, deciding who gets to be interviewed, and then trying to determine as much about a person’s lifetime building capacity of character and experience within fewer minutes than I can count on my fingers and toes. It can be emotionally exhausting for everyone involved.

To be honest, regardless of all the fuss, in many ways, I find the interview process to be completely unnecessary for me to make any decisions at all. I can easily see if a student is academically prepared to intellectually excel in our program. And if I want to know if a student has the fortitude to roll up a set of sleeves and the work ethic to see something through, I have the ability to make those assessments within the first few weeks of the program. Granted, I can dig pretty deeply within just a few minutes of an interview to find out what I need to know for applicants to get in…but I have to wait and see if these folks have what it takes to keep them here.

What I find out about an applicant isn’t really the greatest point of our interview process, anyway. Truthfully, it’s not nearly as important for me to see through the interview facade that gets spread on like peanut butter for that short amount of time as it is for the applicant to see through the opacity of himself or herself. I mean, in the end, I’m not the one who’ll be undertaking this career challenge along with all of the circumstances that each of these individuals will be facing in life. I long ago made my own decision and had the gumption to stick to it.

Gumption.

gumptionI like that word. It should be used more often in all the self-help tripe that gets plastered across the huge quarter section of the bookstore and slapped over half-naked bodies on magazine covers.

Gumption may not be stylish for a fashion cover, but it makes me appreciate the years that cause me to go well beyond the counting I can do on my fingers and toes anymore.

Old folks surely know all about gumption.

Gumption is the best response to life when it’s kicking you around and trying its bloody best to hold you down.

Gumption puts its head down and pushes the plow ’til the work’s done.

Gumption won’t take no for an answer.

***

This was an exciting week for many of our program’s applicants. They opened the mailbox to letters of acceptance.

This was a heartbreaking week for many of our program’s applicants. They opened the mailbox to letters of “not this time.”

What the individuals in either of these groups do from here will be determined by their…you got it – Gumption!

I can think of some program applicants, particularly, who received that second type of letter in the past but showed a great deal of gumption.

Those applicants were not accepted during their first year of applying. With every measure of gumption (while likely swallowing some salty tears), each one asked to be considered for the following year. Once accepted, two of them came (in separate years) and finished at the top of their classes, each receiving the class excellence award. One of these women is now the head of her department and has trained and employed multiple students beyond herself. Another applicant was an alternate, accepted in the final moments before classes began, after other individuals no longer believed their positions were of as great importance as they had at the time of the interview. This student persisted and later became an instructor in the program for a time. In each of these cases, excellence by perseverance made itself known. Without the gumption to brush themselves off and try again, those ladies’ gumption would’ve gone untapped.

The media likes to show big winners – either when they’re on top or when they’ve just lost everything they once had. What we don’t hear enough about are those who have lost a lot in life but who have the gumption to go on. They’re already winners – despite setbacks, despite life sending them in directions they didn’t choose to take, despite heartbreaks. Why? Because gumption understands that winning is about picking yourself up and continuing to move. Whether the movement is ahead or in a different direction, one thing’s for certain…

Life can’t hold those folks down.

They’ve got GUMPTION.

 

 

 

Just Relax…

“Just relax,” the nurse prodded, as I set the book aside, earmarking the chapter I’d been reading on anxiety.

Sure. Relax, I chided inside my head. That always works to tell yourself that, almost…um, never.

“I’ll let you sit here for a few minutes before I take your blood pressure again. I’m sure you’ve just been rushing around this morning.”

I dropped my head in shame, thinking of the irritable words I had mumbled at the line of cars that were keeping me from getting to my doctor’s appointment on time. You know, blaming others always reduces anxiety – just like reading books about it.

I drummed my toes on the step that I had used to get up on the table that reminded me I was the patient – meaning that something was wrong with me. Oh yeah? Not nearly as wrong as that stupid step that’s bent downward. I recognized that my legs were plenty long enough that I should have ordinarily been able to be flat-footed upon it. I was beginning to feel a little less anxious now. Transference always did the trick.

Just as I was feeling more relaxed, the nurse came back in and squeezed my arm again with the blood pressure cuff.

“Oh.”

Oh? That’s all I was going to get, huh? “So I take it that my forced meditation didn’t work?” I figured one of us needed to verbalize the obvious.

“It actually went up some more. We’ll have you lie down for awhile after your check-up and try again.”

All the issues stacked on my office desk began to send mind-texts to me. The post-it reminders on my brain were piling up. After my little office table nap, my blood pressure had sky-rocketed. Brilliant.

The next thing I know, my doctor is blah-blahing about medicine to reduce my blood pressure.

“Wait a minute, doc. I can’t do that. My blood pressure’s just high because I have a lot on my plate this week, and being here is just putting me further behind.” Seemed like a reasonable excuse to me. Yeah, I know. Emphasis on excuse.

“Well, I’ll tell you what,” she reasoned back. “Let’s just start you on it this week, then, and when things settle down – and we see that your blood pressure does too – we can talk about you coming off of it.”

And therein lies my new pet peeve. Reasonable people. Don’t they just get all over your nerves?