Nine Two Oh

A few weeks ago now, I completed a for real series of P90X. With the exception of the last phase where I was pushed off the wagon by attending a conference during which the food selection and workout opportunities left a lot to be desired, I did pretty well with the food thing–and mostly OK with keeping a food journal.

Even with the brief stint off the wagon, I still managed to make progress:

That was from the end of phase 1 to the end of phase 3.

I’m not done yet, though. I certainly made more progress with P90X than I have with anything else I’ve tried.

And I’ve tried lots of things.

Unfortunately, I’m fighting against my own genetic code. People, I’m an ox. I’m flexible enough to do yoga and make it look good, but I’m an ox. Or a small tank. And I’m predisposed to carry a bunch of fat. Thankfully, I inherited my father’s vascular system to combat the negative effects of some extra padding. But the extra padding needs to go. For me, though, it’s a Sisyphian task.

In the midst of P90X this summer, I’ve also been working on getting faster as a runner. After running a 9:20 mile yesterday (which is a light jog for most of you), I can tell my efforts are starting to pay off. And I will continue that process–especially as I begin training for a “fast” (remember, I’m an ox) 10k at the end of October. If my own will doesn’t propel me to the finish line in under an hour (remember, I’m an ox), perhaps the Blue Moon at the finish line will.

And so, dear reader, on Monday it all starts: P90X and fast 10k training. Me and Sisyphus. Together again.

An Unlikely Role Model

Lately, Ryan has become very attached to one of our neighbors. He’s a former military, motorcycle ridin’, beer swillin’, sailor-like cussin’, cigarette smokin’, tattoo-covered, blue collar, salt of the earth kind of guy. Not the person you would expect to mentor your child. Not the person you would expect to become your adolescent’s confidante. But he has. And I am thankful. Because, really, he’s perfect for my son.

Plan B

I wish someone would have told me at div school orientation that we should all consider having a plan B. Because for some of us, div school was the end of the educational line—and that was a good thing. Others of us thought it would be, but our trajectories changed and we changed and our plans changed. And those things are also good things, but we graduated as one-trick ponies. With no plan B. And no clarity on how to get a plan B other than that we needed to go back to school.

But for what?

I see many former classmates headed toward the MSW route. It’s a good route. And you’ll spend as much time in that program as you did in div school.

Some of us are choosing the PhD route. And no matter which field, you’re looking at another 4-6 years of school.

Some days I wonder if we’d have all been better off becoming doctors since we’re in school longer than most of them. But then I consider my dislike of science and utter inability to succeed in math and reconsider.

Maybe I should have gotten my teaching certificate in undergrad. Sure, the pay’s not great, but you don’t go into ministry for the money.

Situation Normal, Part 4

Working in church as it is now requires a lot of energy. I still don’t have it and Mom’s been gone for 6 years. So I may not ever get it back.

Then again, even if I did have the energy, I wouldn’t do ministry the way it’s always been done. Which means I probably wouldn’t get hired by a church.

Because if I’m a youth minister, I’m going to talk to your teenager(s) about sex. And gender. And media. And I’m going to provide a space for them to question and think and encourage them to do so. And teach them that there’s no dichotomy between the contemplative life and the active life. And most of you, churches, don’t like it when I do that. Or when any other youth minister does it. Because most of you, churches, like things in a nice, neat package that can be marketed to the larger community.

God doesn’t work like that, so why should that be the nature of my ministry?

And if I’m a youth minister in a church, I’ll be having series for parents. We can talk about parenting teenagers in this increasingly complex world. We ought to. And I will coach you on how to talk to your teenager(s) about sex and set limits and make good decisions…and not be so dang entitled.

And I won’t be feeding the youth ministry machine. Don’t get me wrong. I would provide opportunities for various types of growth and we’d still do the mission trips and youth camps. But…God is not a machine and church shouldn’t be either.

So often, however, church is a machine. And it chews you up and spits you out. And I’ve seen far FAR too much of that lately. So much so that it makes me want to gather my tribe and start another new church (because they’re isn’t already one on every block in the South).

But then I remember that I don’t have the energy for all that. At least, I don’t think I do. Not right now.

So my plan for now is to finish this PhD. And write a book on the coming of age of girls—because no one has synthesized all that lately. And write parent training materials for prospective adoptive parents. And do parent training for the rest of us. And throw in some counseling and advocacy for good measure. And that’s just my professional life.

Situation Normal, Part 3

I am oriented toward direct service and working on staff in a church didn’t afford me that opportunity as much as I would like.

Something seemed really wrong with that to me.

Because there are people walking all around us who are wounded and need a little extra care—despite what their outward demeanor suggests. And we aren’t paying them any attention.

Admittedly, conservative Christians, evangelicals and even Baptists (in whatever form they come) have a reputation for stigmatizing mental health care and mental illness. Generally speaking, the response has been that one doesn’t have enough faith or should pray more or read scripture more and all will be well. And we have this crazy Protestant work ethic which leaves us no time for self-care—or gives us permission to, I don’t know, observe Sabbath.

That. has. never. flown. with. me.

I certainly do think that one can use the support and practice he or she has as part of one’s faith in a therapeutic situation. In fact, that’s what faith-based counseling (note that I did not say Christian counseling) is all about. But the reality is that all of us, at one time or another, need someone else with whom they can process the crap that life throws at us—or to work through more complex issues. For a good number of people, they don’t need to pay to see a therapist. They have really good friends and/or family who can listen and reflect with them. For a good number of people, seeing a therapist and meeting therapeutic goals can be accomplished in a few sessions. For a good number of people, they have been so deeply wounded that they need way more. And it’s more than prayer, meditation, yoga, scripture reading or having faith alone can do.

Until churches find ways to normalize mental illness and to promote mental health, I will have to continue to work outside church. Until churches find ways to identify and meet the needs of the community around them, I will have to continue to try to summon the energy to do so myself. For those churches who have ministers of counseling on staff, I applaud you. You are making strides already.

And if your minister of counseling happens to vacate that position somewhere around 2013, call me. I’ll be looking for a job.

Situation Normal, Part 2

My CPE internship turned into a full-time paid residency from January to August, 2006. I had the opportunity to extend my contract another year, but decided not to. Although working as a chaplain at WakeMed—a Trauma 1 hospital—was the most transformative experience, it was also one of the hardest. Although working there helped me to continue to process my grief, I couldn’t process it at the pace set by the people I encountered at the hospital.

Just before I started full time, I had a conversation with a faculty member at NC State about the possibility of pursuing a PhD in psychology there. Ironically enough, I never ever never in a million years thought I’d pursue a graduate degree in psychology. I was going to seminary to be a youth minister. The M.Div. was the end of the educational line.

Right.

Since I wasn’t planning a graduate career—or any other—in psychology, I didn’t do research with faculty as an undergrad. One’s ability to do research is part of the criteria for acceptance into a PhD program. I also knew I probably wouldn’t have stellar GRE scores. During the conversation at NC State, the professor suggested contacting faculty in the department to see if there were research opportunities available. I thanked him for his time and took more time to decide how best to proceed.

There are multiple paths to becoming licensed to do counseling. The shortest, most versatile path is a Master’s in Social Work (MSW). Yes, it’s true. You become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and do counseling just like psychologists do counseling. Among other things. The path that provides by far the most options (and I like options) is a PhD. Once you have that degree, you get to call the shots. You decide for whom you work and how much. You can work in a variety of settings at different stages of your career or all at once.

But you must first make sacrifice to the PhD gods.

I knew enough about what that experience would be like to say this will hurt a little but it will be worth it in the end. That, and Al saying, “If you don’t get the PhD, you know you won’t be satisfied.”

It isn’t about the letters at the end of your name or the title that comes before it. Anyone who wants that should seriously re-evaluate what they think they want to do. A PhD isn’t worth all that.

Trust me.

It’s about the means to an end and the freedom and flexibility to craft my vocation as best fits me—something I would be unable to do in 99% of the churches in which I might have worked.

It’s about direct service and advocacy at a level that you can’t do when you work on a church staff.

What it ultimately means for me, though, is that I followed a path to ministry and, at the last minute and due to circumstances in many ways beyond my control, I took three steps to the left. And I walked forward a little more. Then 6 steps at a diagonal. Then 6 steps at a diagonal the other way. I actually mapped this out once. Embedded in my path was the shape of a martini glass.

It also means that I don’t work in church and when I go to a large gathering of people who do or have some job like it, I don’t fit. And people wonder what I’m doing there. And my seat at the table was long ago snatched up by some other willing minister.

I’m still searching for where I fit in. Hell, I’m still searching for a church I can attend and maintain my theological integrity. I’m still trying to figure out where this crazy path I’m on will lead and how I can best meet the needs of those suffering around me.

And I’m hoping that I can draw a decent paycheck in the process.