Places in the Heart

I noticed I haven’t blogged in awhile.¬†Sorry, Internets.
A new quarter has started for us chaplains at SFH. I mentioned before that we have four new interns, who are doing well and feeling their way along.
Our summer supervisor, Sherron, has some creative things for our group sessions. One is watching a movie each week, and coming up with theological themes, as well as analyzing the characters, the one we identify with the most, etc. Last week we watched “Places in the Heart” and this past week was a movie I’d never heard of, “Unstrung Heroes.”Both tear-jerkers.
Get out the Kleenex.

I’ve had some tear-jerker cases, too. People diagnosed too young with cancer, and really young patients at The Bradley Center. These are the head-scratchers that compel me to ask: “God, what are you up to?” (but also with the keen understanding that God doesn’t go around inflicting people with cancer or mental illness.)

The theodicy question comes up frequently in this work. Why is there so much evil and sickness in the world? Like many, I could offer some type of reasonable answer. But at some point I come up empty. Who REALLY knows the mind of God?

The mysteriousness of suffering involves the “Places in the Heart,” and for that matter the “Unstrung Heroes” I encounter daily. People who muster the strength to ask for help. People who muster the strength to seek better health, a better way. I could turn the theodicy question on its head: Why so much goodness, Lord? Why so much beauty and creativity? Thank you for health and for those who come alongside.

Mixing Things Up

This week, our group saw the addition of four summer interns. They’ll do most of the same work we do, and also help stretch out the on-call schedule (yay!) for the 10 weeks they’re with us.

Also, we have a summer contract supervisor: the Rev. Sherron Hughes-Tremper from Texas.

The soup pot is getting a stir.

In the room we have the following faith groups represented: Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, two National Baptists, one American Baptist, Assembly of God, African Methodist Episcopal and one Episcopalian (me). Four women, including Sherron, and five men.

I wish we had a non-Christian or two to mix things up even more; but it’s what we got.

Starting today, we’ll meet for various discussions and didactics for 1.5 days a week.

When things get heated between us, and they will, it’s an opportunity to listen and really hear what the other person is saying. My tendency is to react quickly, seeking to correct. (as if my position is always the right one, haha.)

But when I see someone as a position and not a person, I risk “missing” them. As we continue to witness on a national level, it’s easy to demonize and marginalize those with whom we have strong disagreement.

There’s nothing wrong with healthy debate. It’s what we do with the relationship that matters.

The Lord Protects Fools and Drunks

I may have never been drunk, but I have definitely been a fool a few times in my life. This proved true once again last Saturday, as my friend Dora and I took our day hike on the Appalachian Trail.

We met up at the appointed time and place (9:30 a.m. at Hog Pen Gap. Where do they come up with these names?) I then locked up my car and got into hers. We drove “around the corner” to Neel’s Gap, a favorite spot for hikers, cyclists, tourists, bikers and all manner of good people.

The trail runs right through the side of an outfitters called Mountain Crossings. Dozens of pairs of abandoned hiking boots hang from the trees.

About 30 minutes later, we took the first steps of our 7-mile journey. What a glorious day. Not too hot, not too cool. The temps warmed considerably as the sun burned away the morning fog, but for most of the day we enjoyed the lushness of a Georgia spring and catching up on each other’s lives.

Two hours in, we stopped for lunch. Dora had packed us sandwiches, carrot sticks and homemade cookies. The view for our picnic was amazing. We saw, and listened to, chirping birds and marveled at the flowers.

A mile or so later, I had a thought whose most clean translation is “oops.” After a frantic search through my pack, I realized a great oversight: I had locked my car keys in Dora’s trunk; and it was my car we were walking toward.

Kind Dora, bless her heart, was hardly moved. “We have two options,” she said. “We can either turn around and go back or we can go on and hope for a hitch.”

Feeling blisters, I wasn’t in the mood for what would have been about an 8-mile walk. I was hopeful that some kind soul would find pity and give us a ride back to Dora’s car. We got to the gap before Hog Pen, called Tesnatee. A few people were around, but none offering rides.

Dora suggested we walk the paved road up to Hog Pen, as it was a little shorter and easier than the trail. When we got there, I called Mountain Crossings at Neel’s Gap but, being a busy Saturday, they couldn’t spare anyone to come get us. The employee did give me a name of someone, Sam, who shuttles hikers.

What to do?

My imagination kicked in some, I admit. The guy who pulled up on the Harley looked kind enough, but kind people sometimes carry machetes and pistols, right?

Just then I remembered some long-time family friends who live nearby in Blairsville. The husband of the pair agreed to pick us up. “Be there in 20 minutes,” he said. “I drive a Beetle.”

What a godsend. He also refused my offer of payment.

When I relayed the news of our adventure to my parents, my mom asked if I had told Michael about forgetting my keys.

“Yes,” I said, “but he wasn’t surprised.”

Between Two Gaps

I ran away from home today.

I’ll go back, of course, but this is what my husband and I call my semi-annual jaunts to the mountains. If you see him, give him a pat on the head and ask him how the salad tasted.

Tomorrow I’m meeting a friend and we’re hiking about seven miles between two gaps on the Appalachian Trail. (And, praise Jesus, I can finally write about literal gaps in the road to match this blog! Such great serendipity!)

I have never hiked this particular section, beyond a half-mile or so. It does carry nostalgia. About this time 16 years ago, my father and I came up here for a little vacation. During dinner the first night, I sprang on him the news that I wanted to go to seminary the following fall. In classic Hugh fashion, he listened intently, and said things like, “Hmm.”

The next day, we headed north on the A.T. from Neel’s Gap. It happened to be a Sunday. On the way up the mountain, he told me to pick up a rock; and he did the same. On the way back, he instructed me to stop at this odd-looking tree. Though puzzled, I did.

He said he wanted to have a little worship service, being Sunday and all. We each placed the rocks at the base of the tree. Then he started reciting the familiar verse from the Book of Ruth: “Where you go, I will go. .. your people shall be my people.” Daddy was giving me his blessing. I cannot tell you how powerful that was, father to daughter.

So this is a gift I always have with me. I look forward to searching out the tree tomorrow with my friend. Surely the same rocks remain, though aged.