My father put the final pieces of his ordination process in place this past week – it was actually the main reason we traveled to Austin, TX in the first place.
Thanksgiving and my mother’s birthday were naturally close by so we stayed for those (which are important too!) but my father’s ordination service and celebration was the primary reason that all four of my siblings and I congregated in the same physical location for at least 24 hours. This, feat, in and of itself, was a large challenge as well!
My father is now officially ordained as a Chaplin via the PCUSA after having finished his Masters of Divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and will serve at Hospice Austin where he will do some of his most significant life work.
He’s already been doing great work there for the last year or so as a part of the program he’s “official” now and can move to a more part-time role – although there’s really nothing “part-time” to being a chaplin in hospice care, the stories are incredible and the time required is more than intense.
For example, there are times when my father must wake up at 3:00am when he on-call to drive a few hours into the remote areas surrounding Austin to attend to a family who’s just lost a loved one. Arriving on the scene he’d find a growing group of family and close relatives who, although “prepared” for the news, are grieving and in shock regardless. He’ll have to serve them, listen, and give of himself to these strangers in their greatest time of need.
Or he’ll have to work with those that are dying themselves who have a love/hate relationship with him – who want his help, guidance, and counsel but at the very same time abhor the fact that they need his assistance.
Or on other occasions he will have to entertain the incredibly tough conversations from incredibly emotional people about the greatest mysteries of life in the shortest timeframes imaginable with little opportunity to prepare – like questions of eternity for a stillborn child from devastated parents or questions about another family member’s salvation as they lie dying via irrational and hostile siblings or n-number of related spiritual questions about every faith and cultural tradition imaginable.
The stories he has chosen to share with me are so epic and are so categorically different from the challenges that I face daily that have a hard time reconciling and understanding them.
But my father’s voice never wavers, never falters, and there’s a sparkle in his eye as he tells me them. There is no doubt that this is his gift, his greatest strengths and talents tuned perfectly to the work laid out before him. He’s fully alive.
It’s something to marvel at – after nearly 40 years in corporate america working with a legendary Fortune 50 company, eventually becoming the CEO, it’s hard to imagine him achieving any other greater success professionally or finding a better place that might suit him.
But he has and I envy it deeply. There’s a peace, a satisfaction, a calm air about how he describes his best yet difficult work as if it’s a gift at every single point along the way – he even happened to share the technology and software applications that he uses to log his time into (and something I needed to create a solution for in his recent migration from Windows to Mac) and the software is something out of my worst nightmare from both a UI and UX perspective. Yet even that is no less a joy for him as it’s part of his great work.
My family traveled to see him celebrate one of the most significant milestones in his journey and to gift our witness to him and see him do his greatest work and yet I’ve received more in return as a result of my time here.
You see, sharing a cup of coffee every morning with my father for the past few weeks has changed my life and has radically challenged the way that I look at the work that I do – it has begged me to ask the incredibly tough questions about why I do what I do, who I do my work with and who I work for. It’s challenged me to think about my greatest work.
He also gave me an incredible gift of speaking into my life about who he saw me to be, how he viewed my gifts and talents, and shared his humble thoughts on what I should “do” with my life – what he calls one’s “life ministry.”
I want what he sees in me to be fully realized; the sooner the better. We are all on our journey to prepare and to begin our greatest work. Are you on the right path? Are you already there?