Fighting (the Holy) Fire

Last night I finished “Fighting Fire”, an autobiography of sorts, by Caroline Paul,  who wrote of her somewhat nontraditional journey into a male dominated field—-firefighting.  Caroline started out in a more female accepted career (Journalism) and was a reporter for a local radio station, who was assigned a report on the gender driven intolerance within the San Francisco Fire Department when it came to women firefighters.  She took the exam solely as a reporter, thinking getting into the class would give her the hands on opportunities to interview the few female firefighters, and the many others.  It wasn’t until she passed the exam with flying colors, did she actually consider doing this as a career.  The book itself is very well written, and documents her first years in the fire department, introducing us to some of her most dramatic, traumatic and miraculous calls.  And also documents for us, how she herself, learned to blend in as a female firefighter.  But deep within this book, women can find a deeper message—–that if we have enough determination, we can enter any field we want.

I faced this myself for many years.  By now, many of you know of my calling to work with those facing the end stages of life.  To be honest, anything within the death industry seems to, for some reason, be male dominated.  My guidance counselor refused to write me a recommendation to mortuary school back in high school, simply because he thought I would never succeed, being female and not from a funeral family.  But even before that, there was another area in my life I was called to, that, for all the wrong reasons, people told me I could never be in because of my gender.  And now, I will prove them all wrong.

I still, very much feel the need to work in the death industry—but with this new found belief in myself (a slow climb, but getting there.) I have decided to reach for something higher than Mortuary Science.  To follow that other yearning deep in my heart—the call to using my faith in my career.  No, I’m not becoming a priest (although, for the record, if and I say IF, the Pope ever does allow women to be priests or deacons, I’ll be first in line!) I have decided that my faith life is just too important to me to keep to myself.  My empathy and compassion are strong gifts I have been blessed with, and I need to be in a career field that uses these gifts.  What career am I talking about?  Chaplaincy.

This was NOT an overnight decision.  Ever since joining Blessed Sacrament, and praying weekly in their chapel, it resurfaced on my heart.  I began praying about it silently, not sharing with anyone—-half for fear of rejection or laughter, and the other half merely because I wasn’t sure.  Until one day at lunch, a friend of mine, who I haven’t seen in well over  9 years until this day, suddenly looked at me and mentioned that she could always see me as a hospital or hospice chaplain.  It blew me straight out of the water, as I had said NOTHING to anybody, that I was praying about entering that exact same area.  I took it as a sign, and did research on both the career outlook/salary angles, and the faith angles, as many of the criticism I had faced when I’d mention this years ago, was that you can’t be Catholic and a woman chaplain.  And I think the reason people assumed this is that most chaplains you see ARE also priests or pastors.  But Women CAN be chaplains, they just would not be able to say mass or administer sacraments.  I cared for my father up until his death, and am now caring for my mother in her sickness.  I also had an encounter with an elderly woman while I was in nursing school, which those of you who bought my latest book will know of.  As I look back and reflect now, I think that experience was a sign.   Hospice/chaplaincy also falls within my school major I am currently in (Human Services/Gerontology), which means less schooling than graduating and then returning for Mortuary School.

I’m sure many of you are concerned that this field does not offer a high salary.  Compared to a Funeral Director’s salary, you would be correct.  But, since joining Blessed Sacrament, which I call my rainbow parish, I have felt less worldly driven.  As long as I have a stable, safe roof over my head, and a car that runs (once I get y license),  and enough to pay for the necessities, I will be satisfied.  I do not need large salaries, or expensive vacations.  Disney is nice if you have children to bring, and a day at the beach is always nice, but almost every state has some form of beach, lake or place of interest.  I am a strong believer that a vacation is simply what you make of it.  My ideal vacation?  Taking off for a long drive and exploring a new town.  Visiting cemeteries. And, since I have to throw some weirdness in for good measure, I like a good funeral home tour as well.  Happiness is more than money, a Buick, and a large house.  All of these things we cannot take with us when we die. So why lavish and take them for granted while we’re alive?

Some of you are saying “how long will this decision last?”—Yes, I know, I’ve changed many times, even recently.  But it is a lot of hard work to really pray about where you belong.  If you don’t truly do that, you will never be happy.  I lost myself, and let myself get tossed around by listening to so many people, people I trusted to know me—they tossed me into various careers, and I did not have the self-esteem or belief in myself to follow my own heart.  Now, I have.  And the sad part is, now that I’m truly happy and finding my future—that is when some of these “friends” have decided to walk away.  And while that hurts a little, ok, a lot.  I know that the friends who remain by my side and support me in this new career, are the REAL friends that I need.

What have you always wanted to do?  Did you follow your dream career, or let it get drifted by others?  This Lent, and beyond—-dig deep.  Pray.  Discover your true self.  You may discover you are not as happy as you appear.  Change that.  Life is too short.

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Lent: A Light in Darkness

Lent is my favorite time of year—and many people question my sanity when I admit this.  And likely so.  Yes, it is a difficult time of year—it’s sobering, it’s humbling, and you’re forced to “give something up”—or so you thought.  Today, I want to shed some light on some areas that Christians focus on during Lent, and offer some ideas as you begin this lenten journey.

First, let’s start with Fasting/Abstaining.  Fasting pertains to food- Catholics observe this rule between the ages of 13-65 (roughly), and it involves not eating meat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent, and if possible, limiting yourself to one full meal.  But there is a deeper area of abstaining, and even “giving up” something—it should be something difficult.  It wasn’t easy for Christ to carry his cross to Calvary, so why do we always choose the easy way out by giving up something physical, like sweets, alcohol, or limiting our technology and social media presence?  These are great, if done correctly.  For example, you give up Facebook—but what do you do in place of the time you spend on Facebook?  Turn on the TV?  Instead, if you feel led to give up Facebook entirely, replace that time with something beneficial, like prayer, or family time.  BUT- here’s an idea—-so many people give up facebook or twitter because of the negativity that is on there (especially recently).  But, as my title says, we are a light in that darkness—and you can be a part of that.  Instead of pulling away from FB- use it as a tool.  Remove your profile photo and replace it with something to do with LENT. (I must decrease, Christ must increase).  Comment on a friend’s status with love, instead of a snide or cruel remark.  Refrain (abstain) from posting status updates about YOURSELF, and instead, post a saint quote, or a scripture verse.  If you have that “One friend” that is always negative—-abstain from them.  block them temporarily (perhaps permanently).  Abstain from negative thoughts about yourself.  Avoid negative people, places, things, shows, music, anything negative.

Next, Prayer.  The whole point of Lent is to make yourself right with God.  And while reconciliation is a “quick fix”, you need to maintain that new relationship.  Find space for prayer in your life.  I refuse to believe everyone has the perfect prayer life- we can all afford a little more time with God.  Try to carve out 15 minutes in the morning or before bed.  Find a new devotion that you’d like to add to your daily routine—such as a Rosary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, or the Stations of the Cross.  Start a journal.  Make mass one additional day during lent, besides Sunday (or Saturday evening).  Find an adoration chapel near you and stop by on your way home from work, even if just for a few minutes.  Read a chapter of the bible a day.  Meditate on the gospel of the day.  Read the Psalms.  Look at a crucifix and meditate on it and what it means to you.  Offer to pray for or with someone.

Repentance/Forgiveness- it is a common misunderstanding that the season of Lent is only a form of forgiveness between ourselves and God.  While this is PART of it, the practice of forgiving can also be spread to others in this season.  We all have battle scars and open wounds that haven’t fully healed.  Words do hurt us, especially in our younger days.  Those words stick like wounds.  Some of us may have physical wounds—we may have been raped, assaulted, even violently injured by someone else’s hands.  We may have lost a loved one to an act of violence.  During this time of Lent, try and be more forgiving (again, nothing about Lent is easy!  That’s why it’s a Sacrifice!)

Love- This word goes much deeper than just the love between a husband/wife, or boyfriend/girlfriend.  This word is for everybody.  We can show love to everyone we meet.  A smile to someone on the corner, helping an elderly woman across the street.  Listening to a woman’s story of why she had an abortion, or felt it was her only choice, instead of judging and condemning her.  Sitting and talking with someone who appears sad or emotionally down, instead of avoiding them.  Inviting someone to mass with you who may have been away from the faith for a long time, or perhaps doesn’t have a faith.

Lastly—-here it goes—-Alms giving.  This doesn’t ALWAYS mean money (although donating money to a needy charity or participating in weekly church collections is a good thing).  There are other ways you can give alms—you can donate canned goods to a local food pantry.  You can fill a bag with things you no longer need and donate them.  You can give your last two dollars in your wallet to the single mom behind you who is two dollars short of her grocery bill.  You can pay the toll for the car behind you on the way to work.  You can check on your elderly or sick neighbor, and make sure he or she is getting all they need.  You can donate time, by visiting an elderly patient at a nursing home who may not have family.  You can inquire about various ministries within your church community, and see if any particular one needs an extra hand.

I hope discussing these different areas of Lent have helped you to find an area that you need to focus on.  Instead of “giving up” something, something we will easily pick back up comes Easter and have not grown from—-let’s find something we can work on, not only during Lent, but afterwards.  Let’s find something we can get out of Lent.  Perhaps a deeper relationship with family, or a hidden talent we never expected to use or even knew we had, that we discovered through prayer.

Remember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Be a light in the darkness.  And most importantly, have a blessed Lenten season.

Behold, behold the wood of the cross.  On which is hung our Salvation.  O Come, Let us….adore.