Thursday, April 28, 2016

Last Day, Full Heart

This morning, after snapping my clerical collar into place and pulling on my Canterbury t-shirt, I put on my CNU Episcopal Chaplain name tag for the last time.  Above it I attached my small “Safe Zone” pin.  Turns out the weather was cool and rainy enough that I also wore my blue and white CNU sweatshirt on top of everything. 

My last day at the prayer station.  It was hard to wrap my brain around it this morning, and now that it’s over, I’m still in disbelief. 

When I arrived today, I took one load of stuff to the Plaza.  I was pleased that it was dry enough to set up outside.  After running inside to order a chicken flatbread sandwich for lunch, since I hadn’t brought anything with me, I went to the chapel to get my sign.  Before I even got the chairs out of their bags, the raindrops began plopping onto the sign, threatening to smear the ink.  I checked my Weather Channel app and saw a big blob of green, yellow, and red approaching the blue dot that indicated my location. Scary looking blob.  Promising more than a few drops of rain.

Time to move inside.

I was disappointed to be inside on the last day, but I was glad that I made that decision because a few minutes later I saw students running into the building, soaking wet.  Umbrellas and hoods went up as students headed out into the downpour.  After picking up my sandwich, I began setting up the chairs in the DSU rotunda, when a senior walked in and greeted me.   

“How are your exams going?” I asked him. 
“I just finished college,” he answered.  He had just emerged from his last final.

I held my hand up, and he gave me an exuberant high five.  The look on his face was priceless.  Joy, wonder, disbelief, shock, amazement.  He told me that last night he had felt a flood of feelings and that it would all take a long time to process.  I bet.  He asked what was going on with me, and when I told him about my new position, he said, “You’re in transition too.”

Yes.  Yes, I am.  I guess I feel a little like he does today – lots of feelings.

My Canterbury students surprised me with a gift at lunch – a book they had made of pictures and notes they had written, including one from our student who is studying abroad.  Some were handwritten; some were typed.  They included our scripture, John 8:32.  At first I thought it was a little writing notebook, but when I opened it I saw what they had done and tears formed behind my eyes.  I couldn’t read it right then because I knew I'd be too emotional, but later in the afternoon I read through each note and smiled with wet eyes as I read their kind and loving words.  It was the best gift they could have given me and will be a book I treasure.  I found myself holding it close and finally put it in my bag.  The student who gave it to me said that they had all pitched in.  My heart was so full - gratitude, humility, sadness, joy, surprise, love.  I know they aren't really my students - they are their own wonderful, individual selves, but I can't help thinking of them as my students, and they will always have a special place in my heart.

At about 1:45 it was time to pack up the prayer station and unload the exam snacks.  St. Stephen's senior warden came by and blessed me by helping me unload and set up.  He also took some pictures and helped with the exam snack table.  I was so grateful for his help.  As always we provided a smorgasbord of options ranging from fruit to Capri-suns to chips to candy, with an especially heavy emphasis on the candy that had been leftover from the Easter egg hunt.  Capri-suns were the first to go.  One of the Canterbury students hung out for about an hour helping us out.  Another came by to pick up a new t-shirt that I had just received from the printer this morning.  A third came by and helpfully filled a bag full of candy for her suite-mates just when we were ready to pack up and assisted us in loading the car.  Hugging each student good-bye was hard, but I am so grateful that I've gotten to have this time with them. 

Leaving CNU early tonight felt strange.  I'm not sure I quite believe it's over.  I will preach and celebrate at St. Stephen's on Sunday at a combined service in my honor and begin another round of good-byes, but today was it for my time on campus.  Like the seniors, I am graduating, and there is a whole heap of feelings.  Though I have a sermon to write and many other things on my list to do, I have been at odds tonight, not quite ready to let go.  New good things are coming, not the least of which is a trip to Denver to see my brother and his family, but for tonight, I'm trying to be with my feelings.  It's okay to be sad.  It's okay to miss them.  It's okay to need time to process.  Both for them and for me. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Saying Good-bye Part 2

It's hard to say good-bye.  And not only to trees.

Today I start saying good-bye to CNU.

Monday night we had dinner at Father Scott's - the last time I will be part of it.  Tonight will be my last official meeting for Episcopal Campus Ministry at CNU.  This afternoon I'm bringing the labyrinth to the Plaza for its final appearance.  Next Thursday students will be finishing up exams, and I will sit and pray one more time at the Plaza Prayer Station and then hand out some exam snacks.  The first of May will be my last official Sunday at St. Stephen's, though I will be there once more briefly to fill in when Scott is away on the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend.  Lots of lasts.

I will not miss the commute down I-64 under construction, and I will not miss watching the trees being destroyed.  I will not miss the wind trying to knock me down as I carry my sign across campus or the freezing cold temperatures as I huddle in the DSU in winter.

I will miss the students, the prayer station, the beautiful CNU campus, the quiet prayers and in depth conversations, the chocolate croissants at Einstein's, ECM meetings in the chapel, sharing the labyrinth, the Farmer's Market, blessing the semester, the staff members I've come to know, weekly visits to the OSA office, Sunday mornings with the good people of St. Stephen's, the dinners at Father Scott's, the check-ins with the Canterbury Club, highs and lows, the afternoons praying and talking and being present.  And did I mention the students?  Canterbury students, Thrive students, Cru, UCM, and Lutheran students.  Students on the Diversity Council, students in the arts, student athletes, student leaders, students who I only met for 5 minutes, and students who I got to know quite well.  So many amazing students whom I will miss.

When the seniors graduate from CNU this year, so do I.  I have accepted a position as the Associate Rector for Outreach and Women's Ministries at Bruton Parish Church.  It will be a wonderful opportunity for me to expand recovery ministry and meet a whole new church full of amazing people of God and integrate my SpiritWorks ministry with parish ministry.  It will also be very cool to serve in the church where I was ordained a deacon.  I'm excited.

But first it's time to say good-bye.  Am I starting to sound like Emily in Our Town?  "Good-bye Grover's Corners..."  (Once a theatre major, always a theatre major!)

Good transitions are bittersweet.  In order to say hello to the new thing, we have to say good-bye to what we are leaving behind.  The seniors will be saying good-bye to CNU as they prepare for the new phase of their journey.  Please keep all of us in your prayers as we make this transition.

Although it's hard to say good-bye, the difficulty shows the importance of the relationships.  Thank you, God, for this time at CNU and St. Stephen's, and for all the beautiful people you have brought into my life.  Bless us and keep us until we meet again.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Saying Good-bye to Trees

I live about 40 minutes from CNU.  Each time I go down I drive on I-64.  It is often clogged with traffic, especially when I'm returning home on Sunday afternoons.  They are widening it.  It needs to be widened as it is one of the main arteries into Hampton Roads.  But one of the reasons I have always liked the stretch of road between Newport News and Williamsburg is the trees.  They line both sides of the interstate and fill the median.  When I used to drive from Norfolk to parts further north, I would always breathe a sigh of relief when I left Newport News and reached the stretch of interstate with the trees.

They're taking down the trees.  Every time I drive to CNU, my heart sinks.  I watch the man in the cherry picker lopping off the high branches.  I see tree trunks stripped of branches sticking up out of the earth.  Further along there are stacks of tree trunks in bundles.  Redbuds, dogwoods, pines, maples, sweetgums, trash trees and ornamentals, all decimated.  It breaks my heart, and it's been even worse as the trees have started blooming, only to be cut down.  I hear the words of Dr. Seuss from the Lorax:  "I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees."  I know that the trees have to come down for the road to be widened.  I know that I will be glad when I am no longer stuck for hours at a time in traffic.  But I hate to say good-bye to the trees.

Saying good-bye is hard no matter what.  I had a sweetgum tree removed from my yard in January.  It was growing into my deck and starting to lift the railing off its posts.  Still, I hated to see it go.  I will not miss the sweetgum balls, but I will miss the red and yellow leaves in the fall and the shade in the summer and the birds and squirrels that perched on its branches. I will miss staring up through it's leafy bower to the sky.

I wish that progress didn't mean so much destruction to the natural world.  I know that I will be glad when the construction is done and traffic flows more smoothly.  But oh, how I will miss the trees.

Monday, April 4, 2016

In the Shadow of the Topiary

On Thursday I sat in the shadow of the topiary.  One of the students who comes by and frequently comments on the weather said, "It's not cold.  It's not rainy."  I responded, "And I'm sitting in the shadow of the topiary, so it's not too hot!"  After I said it, we laughed, and I joked, "Sounds like a book title, doesn't it?"  Maybe, if I write a book about my experiences at the prayer station, I'll use that title.  On warm days, the Plaza bakes in the sun, and though Thursday wasn't as warm as it will be when the students return in August, I still got a little sweaty.  I had discovered back in the fall that the topiary gives off just enough shade to keep from getting too much sun on my face and to provide a bit of coolness.  It was a lovely day for sitting outside - breezy but not the 40 mph gusts that had been predicted.  Last weekend I had gotten a new chair because the sack for the old one had ripped and made it difficult to carry.  The new one is electric blue, and I was eager for someone to try it out.

It's spring break for many high schools, and Thursday was clearly a big admissions day.  I watched group after group passing through the Plaza, touring the campus.  Blessings on their college decisions - I wonder how many of them will start in the fall.  Or perhaps these are juniors, visiting colleges so that they'll know where they want to apply next year.  CNU is so shiny and new; I would think it would be popular, though I understand there's a big debate going on about campus housing.  CNU students are required to live in on campus for their first three years, and not everyone is able to get the housing that they want or feel that they were promised.  So far the Canterbury students seem pleased with their housing for next year.

The work load is increasing as the final month of school starts.  Students are stressed, but they're delighted with the warmer weather.  All over the lawns I see them scattered with their books as they try to attend to their studies and enjoy some time outside.  For those of you who know me, you know that cherry trees are a particular favorite of mine.  Because peak bloom occurred over Holy Week and Easter this year in Washington D.C., I wasn't able to get up to the cherry blossom festival.  But for some reason, our trees are behind the DC trees this year, and they have peaked a week later.  Cherries abound on the CNU campus and lining the streets that lead into it.  Puffy white blossoms called me to them on the lawns of one of the residence halls.  I drew a branch down to my nose and breathed in their sweet fragrance.  One student sprawled on the green carpet of grass under the canopy of snowy branches.  I would probably have chosen the same spot.

There were some prayer requests Thursday and one request for help getting service hours.  The Presidential Leadership Program at CNU requires many hours of community service, and sometimes it can be hard to find places to get enough hours.  I was delighted to be able to connect a student with the St. Paul's Saturday lunch ministry that we've helped with before.  The student who first spoke to me at the prayer station is graduating this year.  He's also getting married in a month and has his senior recital for his music major next week.  He stopped by to check in and chat about a Dag Hammarskjold book he's reading.  It was great to reconnect with him and to wish him well on his exciting future.

Change is coming.  Winter rolls into spring as the baby leaves unfurl on the trees and bulbs burst into brilliant colors.  A yellow dusting of pollen coats my sign and shoes and probably the inside of my lungs after sitting outside for a few hours.  Seniors are getting ready to graduate and pack up and move out.  Underclassmen are trying to register and get the classes they need.  Student leadership is changing over as the older students turn their attention outward.  Everyone is busy as they pass through the Plaza on their way to classes, meetings, meals, studies, naps.  These are the days of the CNU lives as we sit in the shadow of the topiary...