Sure is a little weird to be out of the habit of blogging…and maybe a sign that the Holy Spirit Portal is shrinking? Closing? I won’t say that yet. I still need it. But I’m not in twice-a-week-catharsis mode, at least not this summer, that’s for sure. We’ll see what the Holy Spirit says about it.
Any old hoo, I did want to write. I’ve been back at work for three months now. Mostly, it’s awesome, now that I’m over the sheer terror at the prospect of actually working as a minister.
This is a terror that regularly gripped me even before taking an unplanned year-long hiatus from work. Any time I had a break from ministry, even a week off from worship for vaca, I would come back a little edgy, thinking, “who do you think you are that you can do this exquisitely sensitive, demanding, public work?”
It’s the difference between taking a pleasant hike through the woods and gradually becoming aware of the altitude versus finding oneself dangling in midair. When I’ve been working as a minister all along—counseling people in crisis situations, speaking publicly, negotiating the chemistry of organizational behavior, and the million other things that don’t come naturally to me but that I have to think about hard to do effectively—it ain’t no thing. But when I’ve been away from the work, and come back to it, I’m suddenly aware of how strange and wonderful and scary it all is.
Typically strange, wonderful and scary ministry work: doing a wedding, which I did this past weekend. At the average wedding, the minister’s job is to field the 100 or so friends/family
spiritual but not religious/Christianoid
narcissistic/altruistic people who come together.
And then the minister’s job is to organize these 100, get them to behave, build some sense of community, cast the sacred space, make them laugh/cry/feel the reality of what is happening, all in about 25 minutes. Plus an hour-long rehearsal the day before, to which inevitably half the attendees are very very late, the other half completely spaced out, or impatient, or just waiting for cocktails to start. It’s not as easy as it looks, people.
I did a wedding at Silver Lake this past weekend, my church camp, for a sweet and wonderful couple from my church who had their first kiss there when we were volunteering there two summers ago.
They packed the wedding weekend with all kinds of campishness, including a high ropes course. Now, you might remember that I am REALLY afraid of heights. That my fear of flying is, in fact, more of an exalted fear of heights than a fear of dying or a claustrophobia, as it is for lots of other people. Which means that I am usually fine on takeoff and landing, because we are close to the ground—not so far to fall—and am at my worst when we are 39,000 feet up and I am aware that I have minutes and minutes in which to feel myself plummeting, should plummeting occur.
You are also aware, if you’ve been reading this blog, that post-cancer I am all about Kicking My Fears’ Asses. So at Jen and Matthew’s wedding I decided to do the high ropes course. I’ve done it before, to varying degrees. I make a brave show, get midway up some tree, poke fun at myself, and back down, and everybody cheers and says gosh, you really tried, that’s really something.
Even though I went ziplining in Costa Rica earlier this year, which was a huge asskicking of the fear of heights, the truth is: ziplining is a bit passive. It is essentially a scary amusement park ride, in the jungle. Whereas high ropes courses make you keep doing something physical doing something physical doing something physical in super-slow-motion high above the earth. So, new territory for me.
The Silver Lake staff talked us through the different elements, indicating which ones were more of a physical challenge, requiring strong arms and legs to scale the heights, and which were a mental challenge, requiring strong minds equipped to face the fear of heights. I knew it would be both.
Here are my two children, taking their turns before me. You can see, as our friend Steve M said, that acrophobia skips a generation. This is Carmen’s virgin run up the tree, on the challenge known as the Horizontal Playpen. She got almost up to the platform, then got tired and a little freaked out, but girl, did she zip up!
A snap, to scale:
We told Carm to flap her wings like fairy arms on the way down. She happily complied.
And then there was Rafe, who conquered the Crow’s Nest: running nimbly up about 200 feet of pine tree, walking out on a platform, and leaping off:
And finally me. I chose the Burma Bridge, not because it looked the easiest, but because it looked the most terrifying. The Burma Bridge is essentially a tightrope with two (very) loose guideropes for the arms.
I let Eli, one of the staffers at Silver Lake, check my harness and adjust my helmet.
Then I practically shouted into into his slightly alarmed face “Courage Is Fear That Has Said Its Prayers!!”
I began all my check words, “Spotters on?” “Spotting!” “On Belay?” “Belay On!” “Molly climbing,” all the while, knowing that it was going to be the same as ever: I’d get halfway, maybe two thirds, then make a show of continuing but ultimately give up.
Halfway up, a couple of the staples in the tree were pinned in so well there was nothing to grab. I grabbed the tree. I thought about giving up. I breathed. I thought about continuing. I encouraged my 41-year-old body, which has been to the gym a lot lately but was slightly handicapped at the moment by all the bacon I had eaten for breakfast that day. I breathed.
I made it to the top—and thought, there, I can give up now, this was something to be proud of. And realized I would have to walk out on the tightrope a few feet to be in optimal position for belaying down anyways.
And once I was five feet out, I realized I might as well go halfway. Why not? Nothing to lose. I made myself look down. Woozy. Then thought: I went through 8 months of chemo this year! I am an ass-kicker! This is nothing! And kept going. And going. And made it all the way across.
And then it was time to float down, on belay. Fairy arms!
This wasn’t the first challenge of the weekend, last weekend. I had a little recurrence the other day.
Not a physical one. A mental one. I had been a little short of breath, not huffing and puffing when I worked out, mind you, more like when you have a little asthma or it’s real humid and you can’t quite catch your breath. And I thought, I have a little asthma, or, it must be real humid.
But then it didn’t go away and after a few days it suddenly occurred to me, “Holy Crap I Had Cancer In My Lung Last Year.” And let me tell you, there is nothing like being worried about being short of breath to make you short of breath.
I was driving out to Western Massachusetts when the thought occurred to me that it might be a cancer recurrence, and the kids were plugged in to their various media devices in the back seat, which gave me opportunity for a good hearty (and silent) cry at the thought of orphaning them again.
I went right straight to that bleak, bad, scary place, and it was darker and scarier (albeit more temporary) than it was during all of chemo. Because, in chemo, like in the midst of ministry, you’re so used to being that high up, you forget to feel afraid, mostly. You live so daily with the threat of your mortality that it ceases to impress. But when you’ve been away from it awhile, and suddenly find yourself 39,000 feet up, well.
I got up the guts to tell Peter a day or two later, thinking he would freak out. But being the eminently practical person (you can see why I married him) he said, “If your cancer comes back, you’re going to figure it out by CT scan and not by self-diagnosis.” He is right. That is the medical wisdom.
It took a couple of days for my body to catch up to my mind, and for my breathing to completely ease. I just had to remind myself, like when I was halfway up the tree, to keep breathing, I’d been here before, keep breathing, the perceived threat is not a real threat, keep breathing.
Here is me in a more relaxed moment—hiking Bashbish Falls in Western Connecticut, hours before the wedding. A rare picture of all four of us, furry and happy. How good it is to be alive!