On Repotting.

In August 2015, I walked into the garden care section of a Springfield, MO, Walmart with a dear friend, intent on bringing a plant back with me to keep in my dorm room.  It was senior year, and I was comforted by the prospect of being able to nourish a little bit of green as I began moving towards adulthood with each passing day.  A little jade plant stood out to me, tiny and green, nestled in one of those flimsy, black plastic containers.  With excitement in my heart, I paid $4 or so, and walked out the door with my own potted plant.
When I got back to my cozy and colorful dorm room, I looked around for something that might work as a makeshift pot.  After carefully analyzing my collection of mugs, I decided a transparent glass mug would be my plant’s new abode.  I patted down the soil, then poured a little water in the soil, hoping a little spritz might help the jade feel more at home.  It took me a little while to get used to a routine of checking the soil and watering the jade – hoping to give it just the water it needed.  Also, I experimented with how close or far it liked being from the sun.  After time, we seemed to strike the right balance with each other.  
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Months passed by, til we arrived at college graduation.  I was thankful the jade made it with me at least that far.  After packing up all my possessions to take back to Chicagoland in our family’s car, I carefully carried my plant in hand, hoping it would make it through the 8-hour journey.
Thankfully it did make it, not only through that journey, but the summer and another 16-hour drive to seminary here in Massachusetts.  It adjusted well to this new environment – a little quicker than I expected actually.  
As I watered the plant and made sure it saw the sun, I noticed something strange:  (1) it had gotten quite large; and (2) its roots had nowhere else to go.  But I and it were about to head into uncharted territory:  the art of repotting.

I pored over articles about repotting online, coming to the conclusion that (1) I’d need to get a bigger pot; (2) the pot could not be that much bigger than its current mug because anything bigger might send it into shock; (3) it should be transferred to a terra cotta plant; (4) I should water it so thoroughly after its transfer that water ought to drip through the bottom opening of the pot into the tray; (5) it would take a few weeks to recover. (Thanks for this info, WikiHow).
So after knowing what needed to be done, I bought a pot from Michael’s.  However, I didn’t have it in me to repot the jade immediately.  This may sound silly, but after knowing the stress repotting would have on my beloved plant, I thought I’d let it stay just a little while longer in its confines, letting myself enjoy it should the transplant go poorly and the jade die.
So after a few more weeks of waiting, and then asking some friends to use some potting soil, I sat on the ledge of my bathtub for the big transplant.  To be honest, it was awfully anticlimactic.  Transferring the plant from one mug to the bigger pot took probably three minutes tops.  I spoke sweet words to the jade during the process (like a total nerd), encouraging it to take to its new environment, reminding it that I’d be present for it through the transition (okay, yeah, total nerd). Oh, and sometimes I’ve sung to it, too.
I watered and waited for its transitional weeks, helping it nestle in well to its new home.  To my great excitement, its roots began to strengthen (becoming quite beefy), and new sprouts began growing on the ends of each little branch.  In the almost-year that has followed the transplantation, I’ve seen incredible growth from this once little, once fragile jade plant.  It’s grown strong, confident (can a plant be confident?), and hardy.

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We’re getting ready for another move – the jade and I.  Only this time, I’m readying for my own repotting.  For my own repotting, there’s no helpful WikiHow article (unfortunately).  My own repotting feels a lot more abstract; yes, I know where I’m going next and what I’ll be doing – but I know an inevitable time of settling in my new soil awaits.  I’m trusting though, just like in repottings past, that my own Gardener is singing sweetly over me (Zephaniah 3:17).  I trust that as He waters me, I will not wither, but rather grow strong in an awareness of His sustaining love (Psalm 1:1-3).
*  *  *  *  *

I hope you, my friend  whether you’ve just transitioned into a new season, are transitioning out of an old one, or are feeling pretty settled – that you’ll sense the love of the Gardener tending your soul with His life-giving love.  That He’ll strengthen your nervous heart, helping you feel strength to be rooted and the confidence to bloom.

Why Hospital Chaplaincy?

Since I’ve noticed that hospital chaplaincy can actually be quite a mysterious vocation, I thought I’d write a bit about why this ministry has so moved my heart.

The first time I encountered a chaplain was when I was twelve years old, six months after my sister Katie suddenly died. After being in a grief program at Little Company of Mary Hospital – facilitated by my now dear friend Peg – I saw how meaningful pastoral care was in my own life. Through several years and many God-ordered opportunities and movements, I know deep in my heart that this is the kind of ministry He has created me to do – the kind of person He’s created me to be: being on a pastoral care team at a hospital.

I’ve been shocked time and time again, when a sterile room filled with monitors blaring and IVs dripping, becomes a sweet sanctuary – a place where God’s presence is thick and almost tangible. How can a hospital room become a sacred space? It’s honestly a mystery to me, I must confess, that a place so unexpected can become a place where God’s glory dwells.

I think about the joy of simply holding one’s hand – perhaps frail or shaky or strong. But still, human connection. Gazing into the eyes of another who is made in the image of God – unique, sweet, and beautiful. Holy conversations over room temperature meatloaf and applesauce – as well as those plastic bottles of chocolate Ensure (the kind that never look like actual chocolate, though I’ve never actually tasted a sip).

In my role, I have seen faithful marriages in their most brilliant light. I’ve seen elderly wives sitting by their husbands’ beds – for hours and hours on end. I’ve seen them faithfully keep watch, sentries of every discomfort they notice in their spouses. “In sickness and in health…” when the sickness is deep and the symptoms distressing. Still present, still faithful. As a chaplain, I observe husbands blessing their spouses, demonstrated by an action as simple as spoon feeding. Still, I offer my presence and echo the love of God, asking Him to strengthen, uphold, and grant His peace.

I’ve encountered the ‘religious’ and ‘non-religious’ alike, learning from so many what it means to offer the ministry of presence. I distinctly remember a specific visit with an older man whose chart designated him as ‘nonreligious.’ My internal assumption was that surely he wouldn’t want prayer. However, after a ten minute visit with him, I asked if he wanted me to say a prayer before heading out. He very quickly replied, “That won’t be necessary.” Just as I thought. But as I was about to respond with an “Okay” and a quick exit, he continued,

“Your presence has been prayer enough already.”

I was speechless. Absolutely speechless. My constructs of prayer were immediately altered. Could I really embody a prayer simply by being physically present? At least to this man, the answer was a hearty, “Yes.”

In chaplaincy, I’ve had to reconstruct (or perhaps construct for the first time) a robust theology of the body. If I believe with all my heart that Jesus became human in the Incarnation, literally putting on human skin and feeling what we feel – then I must reasonably begin to see that God deeply values the body as being the place from and in which Jesus redeemed humanity – the body literally being part of the redemption of the entire human race. When in the Bible Jesus ministers to individuals around Him, it seems as if He often reaches others’ souls by first affirming that He cares for the whole of who others are: all their messy and earthy humanity. He heals a man born blind, showing him he cared for his entire wholeness. Jesus heals Mary Magdalene by freeing her from demons – freeing her physically so she can be free, including spiritually. Jesus heals lepers and others who are infirmed, helping them physically flourish to aid in their spiritual well-being, ultimately drawing them to Himself.

I believe that because God honors the body, I can honor others and Him by embodying my ministry to others – being present in the most earthy of ways amidst blood draws and physical therapy sessions – knowing that even this work of being present is deeply spiritual and sneakily meaningful.

So, this is my heart for chaplaincy. I’m moved to tears when I think about this ministry, knowing that I’m passionate to live in the intersection of physical and spiritual health. This is exactly where I feel the Holy Spirit has led me and has equipped me to be present with the sick in mind or in body, present with the dying, holding reverence in the presence of those already dead – privileged to share these moments with family members.

What I’ve Learned from the Spiritual Disciplines.

As the past two weeks have shown me that my schoolwork is monstrously piling up, I’ve decided to tie up my weekly account of the spiritual disciplines (at least for now). Though I may get back on this road of experimentation in the future, I have chosen to stop and to reflect at this point — to pay attention to how these rhythms have shaped my heart this final semester of seminary.

When I think about what’s happened in my heart the past ten weeks, I narrow in on the following image of a tree’s roots aggressively fighting through the blacktop cement (photo taken on a walk in Cambridge):

For so long before this journey, I felt myself trapped by fear of failing in discipline, lack of motivation in connecting with the Lord, and a general complacency in my spiritual journey. However, living these past several weeks in light of the spiritual disciplines — with a literal expectancy of meeting with God — I’ve seen the roots of my heart begin to fight against the previous tendencies of my heart. I’ve felt new life take root in my heart, a kind of life that will no longer be constrained by the limitations I’ve put on myself or the ones I’ve (quite unsuccessfully) tried to put on God’s work in my life. Yes, the roots are breaking through the concrete. My new creation nature is experiencing regrowth.

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As I look back at these spiritual disciplines, I recall such distinct images: sitting on a floral pillow in my seminary’s prayer chapel, praying in front of an icon of Jesus; gazing outside my window at snowflakes steadily falling, remembering the handiwork of God; pacing my room in silence, trying to bear with the strangeness of mute solitude; sipping tea and laughing with my suitemates, celebrating the gift of knowing them; speaking with a spiritual director, vocalizing how the Holy Spirit has been sensitizing my heart to His love and direction.

Through these practices, I’ve begun learning that my delight was not so much in the disciplines themselves — but rather in the fruit of the disciplines — a growing delight in seeing the Lord’s hand in my life.

What has this fruit been (or at least the fruit I’ve perceived growing within myself)?

  1. A greater responsiveness to the Holy Spirit. I’ve sensed greater conviction in the words I speak, the thoughts I meditate on, and how He’s leading me vocationally.
  2. Focused attention on the ordinary. I’ve begun to see individuals around me as truer gifts of God, realizing He has placed friends in my life with purpose and intention. I’ve begun greater delighting in the commonplace events of life: studying with friends, sharing a meal in the dorm kitchen, driving to church on a Sunday. I’ve found God nourishes me with His love in these common places.
  3. Intentionality is carving out space to meet with God. If I truly believe that my identity is found in God as His child, then I must invest time in spending time with Him. I’ve complicated this space, believing it must look a certain way and take a certain amount of time. However, simply showing up and allowing God to speak His love over me — this has changed everything.
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    So, what does it look like moving forward?

    Two spiritual disciplines have especially stood out to me as being beneficial for my soul: Examen and Welcoming Prayer.

    With Examen, I’m encouraged to alert myself to God’s presence, choosing to be aware of the ways He has moved beautifully and apparently throughout the day. Additionally, I can be honest with myself and with God about the times I chose to live out of my own efforts instead of His. I can replay the moments of my day, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal aspects of His character to me and to change my heart so I can greater reflect His character in my own life.

    With Welcoming Prayer, I’ve learned to ask Jesus to be present in every single part of my day — no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. I’ve experienced the beauty of welcoming Him before running on the treadmill or working on a homework assignment; this practice has refocused me, causing me to consciously remind myself that all I am and have — any strength I muster — must come from Him and Him alone.

    These two practices, as well as the others throughout the past ten weeks, have been truly special, challenging me and drawing me into the rhythms of God’s timing — not the limited nature of my own timing.

    * * * * *

    So, in closing, I want to say:

    Thanks, Adele Calhoun, for your informative and special guide. And thank you, my reader, for joining me on this ‘Journey with the Spiritual Disciplines.’ I pray you continue to see the beauty of the rhythms God is leading you into — and how these rhythms can steadily guide you nearer to His loving and precious heart. He loves you so much.